Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned Bill Cosby’s 2018 conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand and released him from prison on Wednesday, June 30, ruling that the prosecutor who brought the case was bound by his predecessor’s agreement not to charge Cosby.
After Bill Cosby was released, Constand, a Bill Cosby accuser whose charges helped put the comedian behind bars, released a statement alongside her attorneys.
“Today’s majority decision regarding Bill Cosby is not only disappointing but of concern in that it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant or may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action,” Constand said in the statement shared to Twitter that has since been censored.
“On the one hand, the Court acknowledged that the former District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute Mr. Cosby was not a formal agreement and constituted at best a unilateral exercise of prosecutorial discretion not to prosecute at the time,” she continued.
“The Court also acknowledged that it agreed with the lower court’s credibility determinations, but nevertheless precluded a future prosecution, which included additional evidence developed in the civil case.”
Constand and her lawyers were not privy to negotiations “between the former prosecutor and Mr. Cosby or his then criminal counsel, let alone signatories to any agreement of any kind.”
The statement concluded, “Once again, we remain grateful to those women who came forward to tell their stories, to DA Kevin Steele and the excellent prosecutors who achieved a conviction at trial, despite the ultimate outcome which resulted from a procedural technicality, and we urge all victims to have their voices heard. We do not intend to make any further comment.”
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who decided to arrest Cosby, was obligated by his predecessor’s commitment not to charge Cosby, despite the lack of proof that such an agreement was ever written down, according to AP News.
Cosby had relied on the previous district attorney’s decision not to charge him when he submitted potentially damning testimony in Constand’s civil action, wrote Justice David Wecht for a split court.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cosby gave a press conference, but he did not speak. Brian Perry, his lawyer, stated, “We’ve said from day one, we just didn’t think he was treated fairly. And that … the system has to be fair, and fortunately the Supreme Court agreed with us. He’s happy, his wife is happy. The system only works if it’s fair to all sides. That’s the bottom line.”
Cosby’s subsequent arrest, the court said, was “an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade.” It stated that justice and “fair play and decency” demand that the district attorney’s office follows the prior DA’s decision.
“He must be discharged, and any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred,” the court wrote, adding that Cosby’s case cannot be prosecuted again.
Cosby was quickly released from a state prison in Montgomery County and driven back to his house.
In 2015, Cosby was first charged in the case. During his first trial in 2017, he was acquitted. However, Cosby was convicted on all three felony sex assault counts during his retrial in the next year.
Cosby had served more than two years of his 3–10 year prison term in a state jail outside Philadelphia before his conviction was reversed. He has maintained that his contact with Constand was consensual. In May, he was denied parole.
Cosby claimed in court documents obtained by People magazine that Constand accepted his romantic advances, while she disagreed.
She said that the comedian, who is 35 years her senior, gave her “herbal medication.” Still, it made her unconscious and unable to speak or move as Cosby engaged in sexual intercourse with her without her consent.
In 2015, the issue reached a tipping point when 35 women who accused Cosby of sexual assault were featured on the cover of New York Magazine.