Why a Pennsylvania Court Released Bill Cosby from Prison After His Sexual Assault Conviction

Bill Cosby was convicted in 2018 of aggravated indecent assault

The decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Wednesday to overturn Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction and immediately spring him from prison hinged on an agreement Cosby made with a Pennsylvania prosecutor in 2005.

That year, Andrea Constand told Bruce Castor, then the district attorney in Montgomery County, Pa., that Cosby, now 83, had drugged and sexually assaulted her in his mansion the year before. At the time, Castor declined to prosecute Cosby, stating there was not enough evidence to get a conviction.

Instead, Castor suggested to Constand, a former Temple University athletics administrator who had once considered Cosby a mentor, that she pursue a civil case against Cosby. Castor came to an agreement with Cosby that if he sat for a deposition in Constand's civil case, he'd be immune from criminal prosecution in the case. (Cosby ultimately settled the suit with Constand for $3.38 million.)

But a subsequent Montgomery County prosecutor, Kevin Steele, brought charges against Cosby in 2015, arresting him days before the statute of limitations expired. During Cosby's trial, which resulted in his 2018 conviction on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, prosecutors brought up Cosby's deposition — specifically his admission that he gave quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with, and also his admission to numerous extramarital affairs.

Bill Cosby departs after a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Norristown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Bill Cosby outside court in 2017. Matt Slocum/AP

In its judgment, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the decision to use Cosby's assertions in his deposition against him deprived him of his Fifth Amendment rights. Cosby, the court stated, had been subject to "an unconstitutional 'coercive bait-and-switch,' " which the court characterized as a "due process violation."

"D.A. Castor's successors did not feel bound by his decision, and decided to prosecute Cosby notwithstanding that prior undertaking," the judgment reads. "The fruits of Cosby's reliance upon D.A. Castor's decision — Cosby's sworn inculpatory testimony — were then used by D.A. Castor's successors against Cosby at Cosby's criminal trial."

Cosby had been sentenced to three to 10 years, and had served more than two years of that sentence.

The court's judgment calls for Cosby to be sprung from prison immediately, and prohibits future criminal charges related to Constand's case.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections confirmed on Twitter that Cosby was released just before 2:30 p.m. ET.

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 against him by more than 60 women.

After Cosby was convicted, Constand addressed her ordeal in a victim impact statement.

"When the sexual assault happened, I was a young woman brimming with confidence, and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities," she wrote. "Now, almost 15 years later, I'm a middle-aged woman who's been stuck in a holding pattern most of her adult life, unable to heal fully or to move forward."

"Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others," she wrote.

Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on the court decision to overturn Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction.

After Cosby's conviction was overturned, D.A. Steele released a statement, saying the decision to release Cosby resulted from "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. My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims."

In a statement released after the court's decision, Gloria Allred, who represented several of the women who testified during Cosby's trial that Cosby had sexually abused them, said, in part, "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."

Allred added, "Despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision, this was an important fight for justice and even though the court overturned the conviction on technical grounds, it did not vindicate Bill Cosby's conduct and should not be interpreted as a statement or a finding that he did not engage in the acts of which he has been accused."

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.

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