Bill Cosby gets his walking papers

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

It was only last month when we looked at comedian Bill Cosby’s failure to be released from prison on parole amid allegations that he was an uncooperative prisoner. Today, Cosby’s fortunes took a turn for the better when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction. He will now be released without having to report to a parole officer constantly. Looking into the details of the decision, however, it doesn’t sound as if the court was convinced that Cosby was innocent or didn’t rape anyone. He appears to be getting off on a technicality. Some of the testimony he had provided in an earlier court hearing was described as being key to his eventual conviction, but the court ruled that it should have been inadmissible. (NBC News)

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, citing prosecutorial mistakes, overturned the sexual assault conviction of Bill Cosby on Wednesday, paving the way for one of America’s best-known comedians to walk free from prison.

The court said that a prosecutor’s decision not to charge Cosby, 83, opened the door for him to speak freely in a lawsuit against him — and that testimony was key in his conviction years later by another prosecutor.

Cosby was convicted in 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, and was serving a three- to 10-year sentence. The Supreme Court said Cosby cannot be retried on the same charges.

The double jeopardy aspects of this ruling can be a bit confusing, but one thing the court appears to make clear is that Cosby can not be tried yet again on the same charges. So unless there’s another accuser out there somewhere with a claim that isn’t past that statute of limitations, Cosby should be scot-free. He’s expected to be released in short order.

So, was justice served in this case? If the court had found that some of the evidence against him was flawed or the accusation couldn’t be sustained, then we might have been looking at a situation where Cosby was wrongly convicted to begin with. But this just seems like a procedural error. In other words, the evidence was strong enough to say that he was guilty of the rape, but the prosecutors dropped the ball.

I’ve had debates with attorneys over this in the past and I know what the technical answer is supposed to be. If the prosecution of a suspect is flawed to the point where a conviction can’t hold up under appeal, then the person is technically not guilty. (Which is not the same thing as being “innocent” but that’s how it works out in reality.) But this has to be a punch to the gut for the victim and her family. I’m sure we all heard the descriptions of how frustrating it was to try to hold him accountable for such a long time, finally obtaining what they thought was justice in 2018. And now the rug is pulled out from under them again.

But there you have it. It’s the American criminal justice system in action. Everyone is entitled to appeal a conviction and present the best defense possible. And this time it seems to have worked out for Bill Cosby.