Bill Cosby allowed to appeal sexual assault conviction before Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Justices want to know if the disgraced comedian and actor was unfairly prosecuted in the trial that landed him in prison two years ago.
Image: Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby is escorted out of the Montgomery County Correctional Facility on Sept. 25, 2018 in Eagleville, Pennsylvania, following his sentencing to three-to-10-year prison sentence for sexual assault.Jacqueline Larma / AP file

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By David K. Li

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a stunning ruling on Tuesday, will allow the disgraced comedian and actor Bill Cosby to appeal his sexual assault convictions.

The state's high court said it'll hear arguments on whether it was proper for prosecution witnesses to say Cosby had also drugged them and if incriminating statements made by the defendant, during a civil lawsuit, should have been used against him in criminal court.

Cosby, 82, has been behind bars for nearly two years after a Montgomery County jury convicted him in 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. He's serving a three- to 10-year sentence.

The high court said allowing the testimony from witnesses about "allegations of uncharged misconduct involving sexual contact" could have been more prejudicial than probative.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court also wants to hear arguments on the fairness of using civil trial statements made by Cosby against him in criminal court.

Lawyers for Cosby have long argued that a previous Montgomery County district attorney promised not to prosecute the comedian for his contacts with former Temple University employee Andrea Constand.

With that perceived immunity, Cosby allowed himself to be questioned during depositions in 2005 and 2006 in a lawsuit by Constand, defense lawyers have said.

Before settling for $3.4 million, Cosby admitted to giving drugs to various women before having sex.

But Kevin Steele, at the time a new county district attorney, said there was no evidence of an immunity agreement and brought a high-profile prosecution against the man once known as "America's dad."

The high court said it will ponder whether Cosby "reasonably relied upon those oral and written statements by providing deposition testimony in the civil action, thus forfeiting his constitutional right against self-incrimination."

Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt said his client's appeal will expose "the corruption that lies within the criminal justice system."

"We’re extremely thankful to the State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for agreeing to review Mr. Cosby’s appeal," Wyatt said in a statement.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Steele said his office would prevail: "We look forward to briefing and arguing these issues and remain confident in the Trial Court and Superior Court's previous decisions."

Constand, in a statement also released on Tuesday afternoon, asked the state's high court "to consider the enormous prospect of putting my perpetrator back into the community after being labelled a convicted sexually violent predator who has shown no remorse for his actions."

"While everyone deserves for their cries and appeals to be heard, even convicted criminals, if anyone’s cries matter most right now, it’s the women who have lifted their voices and selflessly put themselves in harm’s way, such as the prior bad act witnesses in my case," Constand said. "They are the true heroes.”

Cosby's prosecution and conviction was a watershed moment in the #MeToo movement, as women came forward with details of sexual harassment or assault that they previously feared to share.

Diana Dasrath and Adam Reiss contributed.