Yes, that’s right, about 2 hours ago (as of the time I post this), the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction:
The short version here is that the court ruled that the prosecutor was legally bound by the agreement the former prosecutor had made not to prosecute Cosby. Per the MSN story:
The court 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.”
The court was apparently also bothered by the nature of the testimony by other victims:
The trial judge allowed five other accusers to testify at the trial about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s to establish what prosecutors said was a pattern of behavior on his part.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices voiced concern not just about sex assault cases, but what they saw as the judiciary’s increasing tendency to allow testimony that crosses the line into character attacks. The law allows the testimony only in limited cases, including to show a crime pattern so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.
MY View / Commentary:
Fair warning: I’m going to largely be playing devil’s advocate here. I don’t believe in Cosby anymore (he admitted he did it, plain and simple), BUT I also still see the problems with the way he was convicted, and the implications for the justice system as a whole.
When the accusations surrounding Cosby first surfaced, I admit that I didn’t believe them. I grew up with Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids on Saturday morning cartoons, and the morals that the show always taught, then “The Cosby Show” later. Cosby was “America’s Dad”, and presented an image of a wholesome ‘Middle America’ Black family and father on the show.
Long story short, doubt grew as time went on, and when he admitted during his trial that he did it all, but didn’t see it as rape, that was the final nail in the coffin for me. To top that, when offered parole, he refused it because a rehab program for sex offenders was a condition of that parole. So there’s no denying he’s not only guilty as hell, but unrepentant as well.
The court decision today raises alot of questions again that have been brought up by Black Lives Matters and other criminal justice reform movements though.
If a prosecutor makes an agreement, and the other party lives up to it, shouldn’t the prosecutor be obliged to also? Let’s take another, easier example here; somebody turns state’s evidence on their criminal organization, gives the District Attorney everything they need to get several convictions and shut the group down, but then turns around and says “Yes, we made an agreement and you lived up to your end, but your involvement was just too serious, I’m prosecuting anyway”.
The question of the other victims’ testimony is something that has to be considered here also. There was, to the best of my knowledge, no evidence or collaborating witnesses to support their accounts. Did their testimony serve to show a pattern so specific it served to identify Cosby? A little debatable as what he did was a sadly all too common date rape tactic. I’d have to say Yes in this specific case however. My concern here however, as it was with the court, is the potential and real abuse of this sort of testimony to gain convictions, particularly where evidence is otherwise flimsy.
Finally, for me, there’s the issue of Cosby’s trial being driven by media and social media outcry. The prosecutor that did finally charge Cosby wasn’t going to do so at first, citing the difficulty of getting a conviction due to lack of physical evidence, etc… as well as Cosby’s age (which should NOT be a mitigating factor in any prosecution). The social justice outcry forced the trial though.
BUT… He was guilty, so it was the right thing to do!!!
That’s pretty much saying the ends justify the means, and rationalizing witch hunts by saying if they’re accused, they’re guilty. The criminal justice system is supposed to operate on the exact opposite premise; innocent until PROVEN guilty. I can recall more than one famous media lynch mob in my time also. The McMartin Preschool pedophilia accusations, and the Richard Jewel Olympic Park Bombing (prevention) during the 1994 Atlanta Olympic Games for starters.
Both of those cases very clearly illustrate the need to avoid rushes to judgment and allow the system to do it’s job free of undue pressure or influence.
We could also get into the issue of prosecutors inflating charges and then pushing for plea bargains so they can pad their conviction record, or using a case to advance a political career, but that’s another story, even if somewhat related.
Is There A Real Answer Here?
Aside from the media (and by extension now, social media) learning self control, I don’t know if there is an easy answer.
Cosby is, by his own admission, guilty as hell, and unrepentant as hell also. He deserves punishment. In this specific case, the question is, “Is nearly three years of an 83 year old man’s life, the complete destruction of his reputation and career enough?”. Given the lives he damaged, I’d say no.
Perhaps without a rush to get a conviction at any cost, there could have been a later conviction of Cosby that actually stuck. How do we punish him and others though when the legal system is frequently guided by public opinion and political grandstanding vs facts, the law and what’s morally right?