Comedian Bill Cosby has been released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday vacated the indecent assault conviction against him. The court’s decision upends the long-running legal battle against the once-beloved actor, whose conviction marked a serious milestone within the #MeToo movement after he was accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of girls stretching back decades. In a 79-page opinion by the court, the justices found that Cosby’s due process of law rights was violated when he was charged for a 2004 assault after prosecutors previously told the comedian they would not bring criminal charges against him.
Cosby, 83, has served quite two years of a three- to 10-year sentence. He has been incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, a maximum-security prison in Montgomery County. He was released just before 2:30 p.m. ET, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spokesperson Maria Bivens confirmed to NPR. In April 2018, Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his range in Cheltenham, Pa., outside Philadelphia. Constand, who had been working for the women’s five at Temple University, also settled her lawsuit with Cosby for $3.38 million. In December 2019, Cosby lost an appeal of his sexual abuse conviction.
“He was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that’s irrelevant to the facts of the crime,” Montgomery County DA Kevin Steele said during a statement. “Prosecutors in my office will still follow the evidence wherever and to whomever, it leads. We still believe that nobody is above the law — including those that are rich, famous, and powerful.” The Pennsylvania high court’s opinion centered around former Montgomery County DA Bruce Castor’s assurance to Cosby in 2005 that he wouldn’t be charged for drugging and sexually assaulting Constand. Any agreement between Castor and Cosby was never put into writing, the justices said.
The opinion said that Castor thought a prosecution might be difficult, partly because Constand didn’t immediately file a complaint against Cosby. The opinion said he was also concerned about a lack of forensic evidence, and declined to prosecute the comedian. Castor said at the time that Constand’s best chance at justice for her assault was a civil lawsuit, and if Cosby knew he wouldn’t face criminal charges, then he couldn’t invoke his Fifth Amendment right within the legal action . Cosby provided four depositions during which he made “several incriminating statements,” consistent with the opinion.
“The outcome was exactly what D.A. Castor intended: Cosby gave up his rights, and Constand received significant financial relief,” the court wrote. “Cosby was compelled to offer inculpatory evidence that led ultimately to a multimillion-dollar settlement.” Years later, when succeeding prosecutors reopened the criminal case and filed criminal charges against Cosby, the depositions under oath were used against him at his trial. The justices described the about-face as “an affront to fundamental fairness,” saying “no mere changing of the guard strips that circumstance of its iniquity.” The justices didn’t all agree on this matter. Three joined within the opinion, and therefore the three remaining justices filed two separate opinions.
For example, in his dissent, Justice Thomas Saylor noted that an inferior court made an “explicit finding Castor made no promise that the Commonwealth would never prosecute.” He questioned whether the available evidence really shows that such a promise was made. Steele, the prosecutor who charged Cosby, said during a statement that he commends “Cosby’s victim Andrea Constand for her bravery in coming forward and remaining steadfast throughout this long ordeal, also as all of the opposite women who have shared similar experiences.”
He didn’t address the precise criticisms of his office laid call at the state Supreme Court opinion. Gloria Allred, an attorney who has represented dozens of Cosby’s accusers, said the choice would be devastating to them. “Despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision,” she said, “this was a crucial fight for justice, and albeit the court overturned the conviction on technical grounds, it didn’t vindicate Bill Cosby’s conduct and will not be interpreted as a press release or a finding that he didn’t engage within the acts of which he has been accused.”