Bill Cosby and the Limits of #MeToo Prosecutions

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jul 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

Bill Cosby came to fame as a comedian and beloved head of the Huxtable family in the long-running sitcom, The Cosby Show. But sexual assault allegations against him by dozens of women in 2015 rocked the nation. In 2017, Cosby's first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision regarding accusations that he drugged and raped former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in his home in 2004.

In a 2018 trial, in the wake of an avalanche of #MeToo accusations against many Hollywood stars, a Pennsylvania jury convicted Cosby of three counts of aggravated assault in the Constand case. In the latter case, the trial court allowed five other women accusing Cosby of sexual assault to testify.

Cosby received a three-to-ten-year sentence in prison and has been in jail in suburban Philadelphia since 2018. Cosby's legal team challenged his conviction, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently agreed to review the trial court's decision on two points. Pennsylvania's highest court will decide whether the trial court should have admitted an earlier deposition from a civil suit and the testimony from five other women accusing Cosby of sexual assault.

Testimony of Deposition in Civil Case Admitted at Trial

In 2015, Andrea Costand brought a civil suit against Cosby, and during his deposition, Cosby revealed that he obtained Quaaludes to give to women. At trial, Judge O'Neill admitted the Quaalude deposition into evidence. Cosby's attorneys argue that a former prosecutor said he would not prosecute Cosby and Cosby relied on the prosecutor's alleged promise when testifying in the civil suit against him. Cosby eventually settled that suit for $3.6 million. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will take up the issue in the appeal. 

Testing the Scope of #MeToo Prosecutions

At trial, Judge O'Neill allowed the testimony of five other women who had accused Cosby of sexual assault in the past. In his post-trial opinion, the trial judge noted that "prior bad acts" aren't generally admissible at trial to show "criminal propensity." However, these "prior bad acts" may be admitted at trial if they are nearly identical and unusual in detail, showing a "signature crime."

Judge O'Neill's explained his rationale for admitting the women's testimony as evidence of a "signature crime," noting

that, "In each instance, [Cosby] met a substantially younger woman, gained her trust, invited her to a place where he was alone with her, provided her with a drink or drug, and sexually assaulted her once she was rendered incapacitated. […] These chilling similarities rendered (their) testimony admissible."

The upcoming appellate review will help clarify when Pennsylvania judges can admit "prior bad act" testimony in sex crime cases. The review may also illuminate when a prosecutor's statement can be relied upon as a promise by a defendant. Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys will closely watch the Cosby appeal. 

Hiring a Sexual Assault Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one are facing an accusation of sexual assault or another sex crime, you need an experienced and assertive criminal defense attorney. Our Pennsylvania Criminal Law Team has decades of criminal defense experience, including defending sex crimes throughout the state. Call The LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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