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Why the Hell Did Bill Cosby Get Let Out of Prison?

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In 2018, Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault. On Wednesday, June 30th 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated that conviction and released Cosby from prison. Cosby cannot be retried for this crime and that means he is now a free man.

So how did this happen? Bill Cosby seems so clearly guilty, why would the PA Supreme Court let him go? Well, you could say it was on a technicality. Here’s what the Associated Press said about the court’s ruling.

Cosby was arrested in 2015, when a district attorney armed with newly unsealed evidence — the comic’s damaging deposition in a lawsuit brought by Constand — filed charges against him just days before the 12-year statute of limitations was about to run out.

But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Wednesday that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby, though there was no evidence that agreement was ever put in writing.

Justice David Wecht, writing for a split court, said Cosby had relied on the previous district attorney’s decision not to charge him when the comedian gave his potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil case.

The court called Cosby’s subsequent arrest “an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade.” It said justice and “fair play and decency” require that the district attorney’s office stand by the decision of the previous DA.

The justices said that overturning the conviction and barring any further prosecution “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”

Here’s what that means: once the prosecutors promised Cosby they wouldn’t charge him, the prosecutor’s office was bound by that promise. The court also believed that Cosby may not have given the testimony that caused prosecutors to charge him without the promise he would not be charged. And so they decided the only fair thing to do was to overturn his conviction and prevent any further charges related to this incident from being brought; in their view, he should not have been charged to begin with, the trial never should have taken place.

In practical terms, what this means is that Cosby is free, he’s going to remain free, and we’re back to saying allegedly when we talk about the 60 women he allegedly raped. No more “convicted rapist Bill Cosby” to shield us legally.

Sometimes I stop and think that when I was a kid, I used to do Picture Pages with Bill Cosby. And while I was connecting the dots and learning about shapes with him, Bill Cosby was out there allegedly raping 60 women. Mortimer Ichabod Marker has seen some fucked-up s**t. That marker is in therapy to this day.

Good thing Cosby’s wife was there to tell him not to say yay or boo. Maybe something about not putting pills in co-ed’s drinks next time, Miss Camille. Think she made him wear the dunce hat when he got back from prison?

Cosby has, of course, maintained his innocence this entire time, saying that all of his alleged rapes were consensual, that the women asked to have drugs to put them sleep while Cosby had sex with them. This is actually somewhat believable because if you were going to have sex with Bill Cosby, wouldn’t you want to be asleep for it?

But, setting aside whether or not a guilty man is walking free, which basically everyone except Phylicia Rashad believes to be the case, did the PA Supreme Court make the right decision?

The truth is yes, the court probably did the fairest and just thing they could in the circumstances. Forget that we’re talking about a rich guy with a team of high-priced lawyers who was accused of rape by 60 women. Imagine a 22-year-old who was busted for selling pot was told by prosecutors they wouldn’t charge him, gave testimony in good faith because of that promise and was then charged based on the testimony he gave. You would think, rightly, that the prosecution had screwed that kid.

Justice and injustice aren’t about every bad guy being put away. The safeguards that keep innocent people out of prison are the foundation of actual justice, and a few guilty people getting out is preferable to the innocent being incarcerated.

But, if you’re feeling bummed because you believe Cosby to be guilty, he’s not entirely in the clear; He’s still facing a civil action headed by Gloria Allred in California.

Allred plans to depose Cosby, and says that because his criminal trial is concluded, Cosby will be unable to plead the fifth to avoid answering questions.

This is not really a punishment for Cosby. He has enough money that he can just take the stand and say “yeah, I did it, I’ll pay whatever” and whatever amount he pays won’t impact him. He made nearly half a billion dollars in his career and he’s in his 80s. Cosby losing a civil suit would be a moral victory, but that’s all.

And it looks like every other incident of sexual assault Cosby is accused of is well past the statute of limitations for criminal charges. And he’s not likely to commit any more alleged assaults, I don’t even think they make quaaludes anymore.

Yes, that’s right, Cosby has been allegedly raping women so long that the drug he allegedly gave them hasn’t been produced commercially in nearly 40 years. Allegedly. The oldest allegation dates back to 1965, before Cosby would allegedly become a household name, and the most recent allegation is from 2008. That’s allegedly over 40 years.

After all that, Bill Cosby’s only punishment is a few civil settlements and two years in prison. And you might think that’s a miscarriage of justice. You might think Bill Cosby should have died in prison, and I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong to feel that way. But I will say that punishing bad people is only a fraction of the purpose of the legal system. The technicality Cosby was let off on is an important safeguard to protect innocent people from being unjustly railroaded by the system. And if a bad guy gets off because of it once in a while, that’s a better outcome than someone who is innocent being imprisoned.

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