The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction on Wednesday and barred further prosecution in the matter, meaning Cosby is now being freed after serving just two years of a three- to 10-year sentence. The court based its decision on a supposed nonprosecution deal with former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, ruling that the incriminating evidence on which Cosby was convicted—a deposition in a civil suit by Andrea Constand, the woman Cosby raped in this particular case, though far from his only victim—would not have happened if Castor hadn’t promised Cosby he was free from the threat of prosecution and therefore could not invoke the Fifth Amendment.
If the name Bruce Castor sounds familiar, it’s because he was previously seen embarrassing himself on the national stage in 2021 as Donald Trump’s least competent impeachment defense attorney.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to overturn this conviction based on Castor’s promise of nonprosecution drew the support of six out of seven justices, with one dissenting in full. Two of the justices, however, concurred with that decision while dissenting from the ruling that Cosby can never be prosecuted for this crime—something that could have been done while suppressing the evidence that emerged because of Cosby’s reliance on the nonprosecution pledge.
The concurring and dissenting opinion clearly lays out one of the key issues: “Significantly, none of this authority or our case law interpreting it remotely purports to grant to district attorneys the power to impose on their successors—in perpetuity, no less—the kind of general non-prosecution agreement that Castor sought to convey to Cosby. It’s not difficult to imagine why: If district attorneys had the power to dole out irrevocable get-out-of-jail-free cards at will and without any judicial oversight, it would invite a host of abuses. And it would ‘effectively assign pardon power to District Attorneys, something this Court has already rejected as unconstitutional.’”
Cosby’s argument that Castor had given him an eternal get-out-of-jail-free card was already brought up in Cosby’s trial and rejected by the judge there, based in part on the fact that no such agreement existed in writing.
“There’s no other witness to the promise,” the judge in that case said to Castor’s effort to convince him that the agreement was a real thing. “The rabbit is in the hat and you want me at this point to assume: ‘Hey, the promise was made, judge. Accept that.’”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed, and disagreed to the extent that Cosby is now in no danger of facing justice beyond the time he has already served.