Legal experts weigh in on what could happen with allegations against Bill Cosby's after his 2018 sex assault conviction was overturned

By KC Baker
July 01, 2021 03:32 PM
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Bill Cosby arrives home after being released from prison in Pennsylvania
Bill Cosby arrives home after being released from prison June 30 in Pennsylvania
| Credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo / Splash News Online

Now that Bill Cosby has been released from prison after Pennsylvania's Supreme Court overturned his 2018 sexual assault conviction, questions abound about what's next for him, including if he'll ever return to prison.

The answer is likely no, according to legal experts PEOPLE spoke to about the sudden turn of events.

"In terms of his incarceration, I think Bill Cosby has spent his last day in jail," trial lawyer and sexual assault legal expert Paul DerOhannesian tells PEOPLE.

The decision to overturn the conviction "has nothing to do with guilt or innocence," says Northeastern University Professor of Law and Criminal Justice Daniel Medwed.

"This isn't a referendum on whether Cosby committed this act. It's really more of a reaction to what I would consider a prosecutorial misstep," adds Medwed.

In overturning Cosby's conviction, the court concluded that Montgomery County prosecutor Kevin Steele's use of Cosby's deposition from a 2005 civil suit against him in his 2015 criminal case was unconstitutional because Cosby was under the impression he would not be prosecuted when he gave his deposition, which was used against him in his criminal trial.

In 2018, Cosby was convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault after Temple University employee Andrea Constand said he drugged her and sexually assaulted her in his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004.

andrea-constand-2.jpg
Andrea Constand

In 2005, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said that Cosby would not face criminal prosecution in Constand's case. Therefore, he would have to sit for a deposition on Constand's civil case because he would not be subjecting himself to potential self-incrimination. (Cosby and Constand settled the civil suit for $3.38 million.)

In that deposition, Cosby admitted that he gave quaaludes to women with whom he wanted to have sex, and also admitted to numerous extramarital affairs.

During Cosby's trial, Constand and five other women testified that he had engaged in a similar pattern of behavior. Cosby's defense denied the accusations, as well as similar allegations made outside the courtroom against him by more than 60 women.  

On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the decision by Castor's "successors" to use Cosby's assertions in his "sworn inculpatory" deposition against him in his criminal trial deprived him of his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Because of that, his conviction was overturned and he was released from prison at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday after serving nearly three years of his three- to 10-year sentence.

PEOPLE asked the experts if Constand's criminal case is closed forever.

"Yes," says Medwed. "This case is over. He can't be tried again for this crime in a Montgomery County State Court because that's the double jeopardy clause. So this criminal case is over in the Constand case."

Could Cosby find himself back in court because of appeals?

"No," says DerOhannesian. "This is the end of the road under the Pennsylvania state system. That's why this was such a dramatic decision because it is so final."

"The Court made it very clear that Bill Cosby cannot be prosecuted in Pennsylvania for these crimes," DerOhannesian added. "So I think this is the end of the prosecution of Bill Cosby in Pennsylvania."

Could this decision be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court?

"In theory, the prosecutors could seek what's called a Writ of Certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court," says Medwed. "But I think it's very unlikely that they would do that, or that the Supreme Court would be interested in the case because it's only binding in Pennsylvania. I think it's important to recognize that it's a relatively narrow decision as a legal principle. In terms of the ripple effect on other cases that occurred in other jurisdictions with other survivors, this case has no impact on them."

Could other victims come forward against Cosby criminally?

Says Medwed, "With other potential victims, it depends on the jurisdiction and what the statute of limitations happens to be in those jurisdictions."

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Are you shocked by the decision?

"I'm not shocked," says DerOhannesian. "As someone who's in the field, we accept the fact that there are many levels of review of criminal cases. And that's our system, it's designed to offer a certain amount of protection. We want to have a system that has layers of review to help protect people's rights. And certainly the idea that a prosecutor makes a promise to someone to not prosecute them, that that should be enforced."

Will Cosby likely walk free for the rest of his life?

"There would have to be a victim who would come forward," says Medwed. "Or a victim who's already come forward, but the statute of limitations hasn't passed. And a prosecutor who feels as though he or she has enough evidence to take it to trial."

Medwed adds, "I think the chances are remote that he'll face another criminal trial, frankly."

Shock and dismay for Cosby accusers

After the court's decision, Cosby's accusers expressed outrage.

Constand said in a statement Wednesday that the court's decision 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."

Model and television personality Janice Dickinson, who testified at Constand's trial and alleged that he had drugged and raped her in his hotel room in 1982, said she "felt like I was kicked in the stomach."

Gloria Allred, who represents 33 of Cosby's accusers, said in a statement after the court's decision, "This decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today to overturn the conviction of Bill Cosby must be devastating for Bill Cosby's accusers. My heart especially goes out to those who bravely testified in both of his criminal cases."

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.