The court was right to vacate Bill Cosby’s conviction
"I'd give the devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake"
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has vacated disgraced comedian Bill Cosby’s 2018 sexual assault conviction.
The 83-year-old is now a free man after serving barely three years of his original three-to-10-year sentence for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004.
As terrible as it is, the court is right. Cosby’s conviction was secured through unconstitutional means. He is almost certainly guilty, but even the guilty deserve the benefit of law. Call it a matter of self-preservation.
“More than a decade ago,” attorney and Washington Examiner contributor Gabriel Malor explained, “a district attorney investigating one of the many sexual assault claims against Cosby determined that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him. But that district attorney had an alternative to criminal prosecution. He believed that Cosby's testimony could be compelled in the accuser's civil suit if there was no chance such testimony would run afoul of Cosby's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. So he made a public announcement that the case against Cosby was closed.”
Malor explains further, “Cosby's accuser filed her lawsuit, and Cosby was then forced to give testimony. After all, he had been publicly assured that the criminal case was resolved. In the course of that testimony, he confessed to having, in the past, provided sedative drugs to women he wanted to have sex with. Years later, that inculpatory testimony would then be used by a new district attorney, who successfully brought criminal assault charges against Cosby.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court referred this week to the manner in which prosecutors secured a conviction against Cosby as an "unconstitutional 'coercive bait-and-switch.” It’s unconstitutional because using Cosby’s testimony from the civil case, which he had been publicly assured was resolved, in subsequent criminal trials ultimately deprived the disgraced actor of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The court ruling this week also bars any future prosecution based on the charges brought in Cosby’s sex assault case.
The court, which notably never questions Cosby’s guilt (he was convicted in 2018 on three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault), doesn’t mince its words. It's clearly upset the prosecutors mishandled the case as badly as they did. (You should be angry too; their malfeasance is the reason Cosby was released from prison.)
“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 court said, “the principle of fundamental fairness that undergirds due process of law in our criminal justice system demands that the promise be enforced."
Moreover, the court adds, “Interactions between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant … are not immune from the dictates of due process and fundamental fairness."
The prosecutors bungled this, and they bungled it badly. And now, Cosby is a free man.
As Malor puts it, “This outcome was self-inflicted.”
“Yes,” he adds, “Cosby was a predator. But prosecutors can't compel him to waive his 5A rights and then say ‘ha ha, got you now.’”
As terrible as Wednesday's ruling is for Cosby’s alleged victims, the court did the correct thing.
Is it good an accused predator is free? Of course not. Is it good the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the accused predator's constitutional rights? Yes. Yes, it is.
The court found there were "vast" violations of Cosby's due process rights. It can’t, and shouldn’t, allow this to stand, even if it believes the defendant is guilty. The courts exist to uphold our laws. For that reason, we should applaud the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, even if it means a likely guilty man will go free.
The ruling isn't vindication for Cosby. Rather, it's a victory for our rights.
Constitutional violations are neither good nor noble when they’re done in the name of righteousness. They’re still violations, and they’re a threat to all. Everyone, guilty and innocent alike, is entitled to his rights. Everyone is also entitled to benefit of law. It’s what separates prosecution from persecution. But if we violate certain rights for the sake of convicting the guilty, what will be left to protect the innocent?
The courts must defend the constitutional rights of all people, even people like Cosby. Not for his sake, but for our own.