Vermont legal experts weigh in after Cosby freed from prison

Vermont News

Bill Cosby gestures outside his home in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after being released from prison. Pennsylvania’s highest court has overturned comedian Cosby’s sex assault conviction. The court said Wednesday, that they found an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case. The 83-year-old Cosby had served more than two years at the state prison near Philadelphia and was released.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

(WFFF) — After serving less than the minimum of his three- to 10-year sentence, Bill Cosby’s sex convictions were overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday. Although Cosby is free from prison, the decision to vacate his conviction isn’t necessarily a vindication. Nor does it silence the nearly 50 women who credibly accused him of heinous crimes.

“Certainly, this is a dark day for the U.S. criminal justice system,” said Vermont Law School’s Constitutional Law Professor, Jared Carter. He says Cosby’s case was overturned because of a procedural error in his trial.

“It’s really important, I think, for people to understand: it’s not about what we call, ‘the merits of the case.’ It’s not about whether Bill Cosby did these things. It’s really about a misstep in the process,” Carter said.

Pennsylvania’s highest court vacated Cosby’s sentence due to a prior legal agreement that he wouldn’t be criminally prosecuted if he testified in a civil matter. Even so, a subsequent prosecutor charged him anyway. On Wednesday, the court threw out his convictions, ruling that the trial violated his 5th Amendment and 14th Amendment rights regarding self incrimination and due process. 

“It really drives home for victims of sexual assault—who are way disproportionately women, but not only women—that the system is stacked against them,” said University of Vermont’s Ellen Andersen, a professor of constitutional law and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. “This is not a story of a man who is innocent and unjustly prosecuted. This is a story of a clearly guilty man whose rights were violated in a pretty significant way during the prosecution.”

Cosby was the first celebrity to be tried and convicted in the #metoo era. Andersen says his release is based on a constitutional and procedural error, not on the crimes he did, in fact, commit and admit to doing. 

Even so, Wednesday could mark the end of this legal road. It’s unlikely for Cosby’s case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, because double jeopardy are likely to protect him from being tried for the same crime.

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