Supreme Court asked to review overturned conviction

November 29, 2021
Bill Cosby leaves his home alongside spokesperson Andrew Wyatt in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 2021. Cosby was released from prison after his 2018 sexual assault conviction was overturned.
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Bill Cosby’s Pennsylvania prosecutor may get another chance to put the formerly convicted sex offender behind bars.

Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County district attorney who prosecuted Cosby and obtained a conviction in 2018, petitioned the nation’s high court on Monday to review the ruling that overturned Cosby’s conviction.

In June, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed Cosby’s conviction on constitutional grounds, turning on whether he received a fair trial and whether his due process rights were violated. The decision argued that a previous prosecutor’s decisions years earlier precluded Cosby being criminally prosecuted on allegations he molested a woman in his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. 

Prosecutors used damaging evidence that Cosby turned over in a civil case to convict him of criminal offenses, even though former District Attorney Bruce Castor years earlier told him and the public that those charges were off the table. 

Cosby was released from a Pennsylvania state prison within hours of the state court’s decision.

In the stunned aftermath of that reversal, Steele indicated he might petition the U.S. Supreme Court; Monday was the deadline to do so. 

In a statement, Steele said the question he is presenting to the high court in a writ of certiorari involves the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution.  

The relevant part of the amendment says in part: “[N]or shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

“The question presented to the Court is: ‘Where a prosecutor publicly announces that he will not file criminal charges based on lack of evidence, does the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment transform that announcement into a binding promise that no charges will ever be filed, a promise that the target may rely on as if it were a grant of immunity?’ ” Steele’s statement said. 

In his brief, Steele argues that district attorneys issue public statements all the time. Under Cosby’s rationale, he says, the accused in those cases can now claim “forever immunity” regardless of whether new evidence comes to light. 

The court should review the Cosby decision to reconcile conflicts with state and federal law, and to avoid potentially widespread jurisprudential confusion.

“But now, after the jurisprudential upheaval from the state supreme court’s decision in Cosby, there is nationwide uncertainty about whether forever immunity can be bestowed upon a defendant simply by a public statement declining to file charges,” Steele argued in his brief.

The high court does not have to accept the petition. Under court rules, it could take up to six weeks for the high court to act once a petition has been filed, responses received, the case is circulated among justices and a case is scheduled for consideration at one of the justices’ private Friday conferences.   

Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s spokesperson, issued a statement to USA TODAY saying the petition is “pathetic” and a sign of the prosecutor’s “fixation” on Cosby.   

“The Montgomery County D.A. asks the U.S. Supreme Court to throw the Constitution out the window … to satisfy the #metoo mob,” the statement said. “There is no merit to the DA’s request …The (high court) does not typically interfere with the rulings of a state’s high court unless it conflicts with the decisions of other state high courts or our federal court of appeals.

“This is a pathetic last-ditch effort that will not prevail. The Montgomery’s County’s DA’s fixation with Mr. Cosby is troubling to say the least.”

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