Many people were confused on June 30, 2021, when Bill Cosby walked out of prison a free man. After dozens of allegations of sexual assault and a guilty verdict, it seemed impossible that Cosby would be able to leave prison so fast. What happened?
What Was Cosby Convicted Of?
Cosby was one of the most visible men accused of sexual misconduct and assault during the early days of the #MeToo movement. More than 45 women have come out to talk about their experiences with Cosby.
While dozens of women publicly shared their harrowing stories — many of them accusing Cosby of drugging and raping them — only one case led to criminal charges and a guilty verdict.
Andrea Constand accused Cosby of coming to her home in 2004 and drugging and sexually assaulting her. During the trial, five other accusers testified that they had similar experiences with Cosby.
Cosby denied all allegations and maintained his innocence, but the courts sided with Constand.
In September 2018, Cosby was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Constand. Cosby was fined $25,000, required to cover the costs of the prosecution (at least $43,000), and sentenced to three to ten years in state prison.
Why Did Cosby Get Released Early?
So, why did Cosby walk free less than three years from the date of his conviction?
Cosby wasn’t released early due to serving his time. While Cosby was coming up on three years of his three to ten-year sentence, he wasn’t released due to serving his time.
Cosby wasn’t released early due to parole or good behavior. Cosby had an opportunity to participate in a sex offender program that could have helped reduce his time in prison. Cosby refused to participate in the program, reportedly saying it would require him to admit wrongdoing, and he wasn’t willing to do that even if it meant serving the full ten years.
Cosby was released because his conviction was thrown out of the court. Pennsylvania’s highest court ruled that Cosby should have never been charged in this case.
Why Was Cosby’s Case Thrown Out?
In 2005, the district attorney of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Bruce L. Castor Jr. released a press release stating that he was not going to charge Cosby in the criminal matter related to Constand.
Constand pursued a civil case against Cosby. In that matter, Cosby sat for depositions, at which he admitted that in the past he had given quaaludes to women in an effort to have sex with them, as reported by the New York Times.
The civil case led to Cosby paying a $3.38 million settlement to Constand. The civil matter ended there, but the criminal matter did not.
A new district attorney in Montgomery County, Kevin R. Steele decided to reverse the previous district attorney’s decision. Steele proceeded with charging Cosby in criminal court in the Constant matter. The deposition Cosby gave in the Constand civil case was used during the criminal proceedings.
These are the details that led to Cosby’s early release.
Cosby’s criminal defense team argued to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that Cosby’s rights had been violated. The district attorney’s office promised not to charge him, then eventually did charge him and used testimony that Cosby gave when he believed he could not be criminally charged.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with Cosby’s defense team.
“We hold that, when a prosecutor makes an unconditional promise of non-prosecution, and when the defendant relies upon that guarantee to the detriment of his constitutional right not to testify, the principle of fundamental fairness that undergirds due process of law in our criminal justice system demands that the promise be enforced,” wrote Justice David Norman Wecht.
With that ruling, the criminal case against Cosby was dropped, his sentence was vacated, and he was released from prison.
What Happens Next?
There will be no new trial. The ruling includes language that makes it impossible for the district attorney to bring new criminal charges against Cosby in the Constand matter.
Prosecutors could appeal the decision and ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case and overturn the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision. It’s not clear whether prosecutors will pursue this option.
This ruling doesn’t impact other cases that could be brought against Cosby.
The immunity from the recent ruling only applies to the Constand matter, and charges related to Cosby’s other accusers could still be filed and tried. Yet, due to the statute of limitations, it is unlikely that other accusers will be able to bring their cases against Cosby to criminal courts.
Cosby Case Highlights the Importance of Following Court Procedures and Processes
Cosby’s case reflects how important it is to have a legal team that follows legal rules and standards. A failure to follow procedures can lead to major consequences in a case. A good criminal defense attorney understands and adheres to proper legal procedures to the highest degree.