Bill Cosby’s Sexual Assault Charges Were Dropped, But Why? A Criminal Defense Attorney Weighs in

Illustration by Katie Couric Media

The disgraced 83-year-old star walked free from jail in a stunning decision by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. 

Bill Cosby turned in his handcuffs and walked away from jail as a free man after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction on Wednesday. The former television star was three years into his three to 10-year sentence for sexually assaulting and drugging a female victim at his home back in 2004. At the time of the trial in 2018, 60 other accusers also came forward, detailing similar experiences.

The decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to drop the charges, which led to his immediate release, has shocked many, including other Cosby accusers and their legal teams

Why was Bill Cosby released from jail? 

Before Cosby’s case went to court, he and his legal team made a deal with former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor that anything he stated during a civil testimony would not be used against him criminally. However, when the case went to trial, parts of his testimony — such as when he openly admitted to using quaaludes to make sexual advances on women — ended up being used in the criminal proceedings. 

“A deal was made that they weren’t going to use that testimony against him and they did,” says Brian Zeiger, a criminal defense attorney based in Philadelphia. “That’s totally unethical and shouldn’t ever happen in the courtroom.” 

How did Cosby’s deal slip through the cracks?   

Before any trial, both the lawyers and judge meet to review what evidence is permissible in the court. Because one of Castor’s attorney’s used statements from Cosby’s off-the-record testimony in the trial, Cosby’s civil rights were violated. 

It typically takes three years (sometimes longer) before an appeal to overturn a conviction makes it to a Supreme Court, Zeiger says. This is just about how long it took for Cosby and his team. 

“The ruling goes to the fundamental fairness of what he was promised. But, on the other hand, there’s a victim who was promised a fair shake, and this seems like a technicality,” says Zeiger. 

Can Cosby end up back in jail? 

The only way to revoke the state’s ruling is for the case to be reviewed by the Federal court, but the crime would need to be a federal crime. “I don’t think it’s a federal crime, so I don’t think it could,” says Zeiger. 

However, if a new case altogether goes to trial, there is always a chance Cosby will be found guilty again. “If there are other women out there whose cases fall within the statute of limitations and a prosecutor wants to prosecute him for it, it’s possible,” Zeiger says. 

“If you have a trial anywhere in the United States where the court system ignores your fundamental rights, then we don’t really have a court system,” Zeiger says. 

Cosby’s accusers are stunned 

Victoria Valentino, who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her, shared her reaction with NPR. “His rights were violated. What about ours? What about our rights to live and breathe and trust and live without being drugged and raped by someone who said that they were trustworthy, someone who endeared themselves to you out of some kind of compassion?”

Cosby hit Twitter after his release saying, “I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence.”