Bill Cosby released from prison after Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacates his conviction

Bill Cosby released from prison after Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacates his conviction

Bill Cosby's time in prison is over. Although the aged comedian was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison after being convicted of sexual assault in 2018, he was officially discharged on Wednesday by order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. On top of that, the court has vacated his conviction.

The legal reasoning is a little complicated. Though Cosby has been accused by more than 60 women of sexual assault and misconduct, his official conviction for sexual assault was mostly on the basis of his 2004 victimization of Andrea Constand. The conviction happened in 2018, but that was not the first time it came before the criminal justice system. A 2017 proceeding had ended in a mistrial with a deadlocked jury.

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More importantly, the charge first came up back in 2005. As detailed in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's majority decision, Bruce Castor, then the district attorney for Montgomery County, investigated Costand's claims in 2005. Citing what he saw as problems with Constand's credibility as a witness and the lack of forensic evidence, Castor ultimately decided not to go ahead with a criminal prosecution. He was very public about this decision, issuing a signed press release saying he would not pursue criminal charges against Cosby. This was done so that Cosby could not invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when Constand brought a civil suit against him to pursue some measure of justice. Since there was no threat of criminal prosecution, Cosby had no right to decline to testify, and sat for four sworn depositions in which he made incriminating statements.

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images Bill Cosby arrives for sentencing for his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse on September 25, 2018 in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

After the massive media coverage of sexual assault accusations against Cosby in 2015, Castor's successors as Montgomery County D.A. decided to forgo his promise and charge Cosby criminally. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court now rules that convicting Cosby on the basis of incriminating evidence he provided when assured of no threat of criminal charges was an unfair violation of Cosby's constitutional rights.

"When an unconditional charging decision is made publicly and with the intent to induce action and reliance by the defendant, and when the defendant does so to his detriment (and in some instances upon the advice of counsel), denying the defendant the benefit of that decision is an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was foregone for more than a decade," Justice David Wecht wrote in his majority opinion, joined by Justices Debra Todd, Christine Donohue, and Sallie Updyke Murray. "No mere changing of the guard strips that circumstance of its inequity."

As a result, not only is Cosby a free man, he is also barred from "any future prosecution on these particular charges."

Phylicia Rashad, who played Cosby's wife, Clair Huxtable, on The Cosby Show celebrated the verdict on Twitter: "finally!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!"

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