IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How Hard Will It Be to Convict Bill Cosby?

For the first time since the Bill Cosby scandal broke, the once-beloved comedian is headed to trial. Here is what you need to know.
Image: Criminal charges against Bill Cosby in Pennsylvania
Bill Cosby departs the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania on May 24 after a preliminary hearing regarding charges stemming from an alleged sexual assault in 2004.Pool / via EPA

Bill Cosby appears to be headed to trial for sexual assault in Pennsylvania. Here are some of the key questions about the case against the once-beloved comedian.

Who is the alleged victim?

Andrea Constand, a Canadian, played basketball at the University of Arizona and professionally in Europe before landing at Temple University in 2002. She was working as director of operations with the Owls women’s basketball program when she became friends with Cosby, a Temple alumnus, trustee and avid supporter of the athletic program.

Andrea Constand, who is accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault, walks in Toronto in 2015.MARK BLINCH / Reuters

What is the alleged crime?

In the criminal affidavit, Constand said she was invited to Cosby's Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, home in early 2004 to discuss her future. During the visit, the complaint says she was given pills that left her incapacitated, at which time she was sexually molested by Cosby. Cosby insists the sexual contact was consensual. Read the affidavit of probable cause here.

Why is Cosby facing charges now?

Cosby was charged with sex assault in December, days before the statute of limitations ran out. This was the first time the comedian had been charged with a crime. A different Montgomery County District Attorney investigated the claim in 2005 but refused to pursue a criminal case against Cosby.

Might more criminal charges come from other claims?

Constand filed a civil suit in 2005 after the prosecutor chose not to take the case. Cosby settled for an undisclosed amount in 2006, and Constand signed a non-disclosure agreement. In the aftermath of that case, dozens of other women who claimed Cosby assaulted them began surfacing, including former models like Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson. But because most of alleged incidents occurred decades ago — some as far back as the 1960s — too much time has passed to prosecute those cases.

What kind of punishment could Cosby face?

If he is convicted of aggravated indecent assault, a second-degree felony, Cosby faces up to 10 years in prison and would have to register as a sex offender.

How hard will it be to prosecute Cosby?

Defense attorney Barry Slotnick, best known for successfully defending New York City subway vigilante Bernie Goetz, said the burden on the prosecution is high.

"This case is over with. Too much time has passed," he told NBC News. "The major question the jury will have for the accuser is, 'Where have you been and why did you settle?' I think Cosby's position is going to be yes, I had sex with her and it was consensual."

Slotnick said he doesn't expect the judge will allow Cosby's other accusers to testify. "Cosby will be on trial for allegedly assaulting one woman, not dozens of women," Slotnick said. "The jury is going to have to sort out who is telling the truth and who isn't."

Eddie Hayes, a famed New York attorney who was fictionalized in “Bonfire of the Vanities” and who has represented everyone from Sean “Diddy” Combs to the families of 9/11 victims, said it will be “very” tough to convict Cosby — especially if the judge bars other accusers from testifying.

“They can try to introduce others to show intent, to show a course of conduct,” said Hayes. “But it depends on the judge.”

If the judge does allow prosecutors to put other accusers on the stand, they will face some tough questions of their own.

“First of all, why did they wait so long to make their charges against him?” Hayes said. “Also, all of them are already suing him. That’s going to be taken into consideration.”

Finally, it has to be remembered that the man they are accusing is Bill Cosby, Hayes said.

“It’s an uncomfortable case,” he said. “All of these women claim the sex was not consensual. But they all went with him willingly.”