If you are among those who believe that Bill Cosby received special treatment from the criminal justice system because of his wealth and fame, you would be right.
But that preferential treatment did not occur when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the 83-year-old actor’s sexual assault conviction and ordered him released from prison after serving three years of a potential 10-year sentence.
The special handling occurred 16 years ago when a Philadelphia prosecutor cut a deal with Cosby and his attorney, promising to spare Cosby a criminal prosecution if he would instead give a candid accounting of his misconduct in a lawsuit subsequently filed by his female accuser, Andrea Constand.
Pennsylvania’s highest court said that even though there was no written agreement to that effect, it believed Cosby that such a deal was struck. As a result, the court ruled, the deal bound not only the prosecutor who admitted to making it, Bruce Castor, but also his successor.
The justices had good reason to conclude that, at least on this point, Cosby was telling the truth. The testimony he gave during those 2005 depositions was highly incriminating, including his acknowledgment that he drugged Constand and a number of other young women in order to make them more pliable to his advances, while he stayed sober. His own words supported the allegations of dozens of women who claimed that “America’s Dad” was a serial sexual predator, who followed the same modus operandi again and again: using his celebrity and wealth, plus booze and tranquilizers, to lure and take advantage of women decades younger than he. There is no way Cosby would have sanely offered all those details in a lawsuit if he or his attorneys believed the testimony could be used against him later in a criminal proceeding.
As despicable as Cosby’s conduct was, and for which he will be unfavorably remembered until his death, there is a constitutional principle at stake here that overrides all other considerations. Defendants cannot be entrapped by a criminal justice system that promises a deal for their cooperation and then reneges on that deal at a later date. Such double-dealing is not just unfair. It also entraps the accused into providing incriminating information against themselves, a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights.
Castor should not have offered that bargain to Cosby. He allowed the actor, at the time of Constand’s initial allegation, to buy off the shame of a public trial and potential prison time. Rather than prosecuting Cosby and preventing him from preying on other women, Castor aided Cosby in shutting up an accuser, at least temporarily, by steering the case to a civil proceeding, where it would be easier to hide the matter under a cloak of confidentiality.
Only someone with a lot of money could have hoped for a tradeoff as good as that.
Contact Tim Kalich, editor and publisher of the Greenwood Commonwealth, at 662-581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.