Why Bill Cosby's Sexual Assault Conviction Was Overturned

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On Wednesday, Bill Cosby was released from prison when his 2018 conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Legal expert Rachel Stockman spoke with ET to explain the circumstances behind the court's decision.

"In this particular case, the legal rationale for why this verdict was overturned is because, basically, the higher court ruled that Bill Cosby's constitutional rights were infringed upon," said Stockman, president of the Law&Crime Network.

The former district attorney of Montgomery County wrote in an email to his successor that he "intentionally and specifically bound the Commonwealth that there would be no state prosecution of Cosby in order to remove from him the ability to claim his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, thus forcing him to sit for a deposition under oath."

"The DA at the time had decided it was a he-said/she-said case, and he did not feel like he had enough proof to move forward. But in order to allow this woman, Andrea Constand, to move forward with the civil case, he would basically agree not to prosecute Bill Cosby, so in the course of the civil litigation, [Cosby] could not plead the fifth and that he would have to testify in the civil case and give a deposition to what happened," Stockman said. "Because otherwise, in a normal civil case, he could've said, 'I can't speak because I may be facing criminal charges and I wanna plead the fifth.'"

"Then, what happened in [2018] is that material that was used in the civil deposition was used against him in court and the higher court said, 'This is a violation of his fifth amendment rights,'" Stockman continued. "What the court found is that that prosecutors should not [have] moved forward with the 2019 case... [and] Bill Cosby's constitutional rights were violated as a result of what the prosecutor did by charging him in [2019[ because the DA in 2005 had said he would not be prosecuted for this particular crime."

In regards to the ramifications for Cosby, "This conviction has been overturned. In the eyes of the law, he is not guilty of this crime."

According to Stockman, while the decision does feel "really shocking," the legal arguments behind the courts decision aren't entirely surprising.

"There is a legal principle that you have the right not to incriminate yourself," Stockman said. "And if Bill Cosby was given comfort by the prosecutor in 2005 that he would not be prosecuted, which he was, and he went and gave a deposition and incriminated himself because he thought he couldn't be prosecuted, that is a violation, potentially, of his constitutional rights."

Stockman added that Cosby's reportedly declining health did not play a factor in the court's decision.

"Cosby's attorney had tried to get him out based on all of his ailments and the fact that he was in poor health. This ruling has nothing to do with that," she said. "This ruling is based purely on the law and the court's determination that his rights were violated."

Now, moving forward, Stockman said Cosby can no longer face charges in relation to this particular case.

"Prosecutors cannot refile charges, and Bill Cosby cannot face another trial with this particular case," she said. "However, that doesn't mean necessarily it would preclude prosecutors in other jurisdictions or even this jurisdiction from charging him for another case."

Stockman added that, in her opinion, "If another prosecutor were sitting on a strong case, I think they probably would've already filed charges against him."

Cosby was initially charged in the case in 2015. He was acquitted during his first trial in 2017. The next year, during Cosby's retrial, he was convicted of all three felony sex-assault counts. Prior to his conviction being overturned, Cosby, who has maintained that his encounter with Constand was consensual, had served more than two years of his three to 10 year prison sentence.

Following Cosby's release, Montgomery Country District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, who oversaw his prosecution, said in a statement, "The majority decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court orders the release of William H. Cosby Jr. from state prison. He was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime."

"I want to commend Cosby’s victim Andrea Constand for her bravery in coming forward and remaining steadfast throughout this long ordeal, as well as all of the other women who have shared similar experiences," Steele's statement continued. "My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims. Prosecutors in my office will continue to follow the evidence wherever and to whomever it leads. We still believe that no one is above the law—including those who are rich, famous and powerful."

ET also spoke with attorney Lisa Bloom, who represents three of Cosby's multitude of accusers, and she said the development felt like "a kick in the gut to all of the victims and to their advocates."

Bloom said neither she, nor any of the Cosby accusers she represents, had any idea this ruling would be announced and the news "came out of the blue."

"The consensus from my clients is this is absolutely appalling," Bloom said. "It's a terrible day for justice."

Bloom added, "I want to remind everyone this decision is not saying that he is innocent, it is saying that a former prosecutor made him a promise that he would not be prosecuted and based on that promise he should have never been prosecuted. It is not a finding of innocence."

Last June, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to review Cosby's case. At the time, the court said it'd review the trial judge's decision to allow other women to testify about alleged previous encounters with Cosby. In addition, the court agreed to examine Cosby's agreement with a former prosecutor. Wednesday's overturning of his conviction stems from this review.

For more, see the video below.

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