Bill Cosby’s appeal of sex assault conviction could set course for future trials

Click to play video: 'Bill Cosby’s lawyers moving to have sexual assault conviction overturned'
Bill Cosby’s lawyers moving to have sexual assault conviction overturned
Bill Cosby's lawyers moving to have sexual assault conviction overturned – Aug 12, 2019

Legal advocates are lining up on both sides of actor Bill Cosby’s appeal as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court prepares to review his 2018 sex assault conviction.

Cosby was the first celebrity to go on trial in the #MeToo era, and his appeal could resolve lingering questions about how the cases should be tried. For starters, the high court will try to clarify when other accusers can testify against a defendant — and when the additional testimony amounts to character assassination.

Read more: Bill Cosby files new appeal over sex assault conviction

Read next: Uber brings back ride share for some Canadian cities — but under a new name

Public defenders in Philadelphia, in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Cosby’s appeal, noted that courts have given conflicting guidance on the issue.

“Courts repeatedly fail to analyze how uncharged misconduct is relevant to prove, for example, intent or identity,” the Defender Association of Philadelphia wrote in the amicus brief, one of several filed in the case this past month.

Story continues below advertisement

They say the testimony should only be allowed if it’s linked to a single crime scheme, to avoid “the genuine risk that defendants will be convicted for who they are, or for what they may or may not have done before.”

Click to play video: 'Bill Cosby says he’ll never show remorse to please parole board'
Bill Cosby says he’ll never show remorse to please parole board

Prosecutors, in a brief filed late Monday, offered several legal justifications for the accusers’ testimony, hoping at least one of them will stick. They said it’s needed to show Cosby’s pattern of behavior, to show the encounter wasn’t a one-time mistake, and to show the complaint wasn’t filed on a whim.

“It is unusual, to say the least, that defendant has been repeatedly … accused of engaging in sexual conduct with unconscious or otherwise incapacitated young women … without any consequences,” the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office wrote in their response to Cosby’s appeal

Read more: Bill Cosby invokes systemic racism as he fights conviction on sex charges

Read next: Canada’s Michael Buble wins Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album

Story continues below advertisement

Cosby, 83, will mark two years in prison this month and has another year to go before he can seek parole. However, he has vowed to serve the full 10-year maximum rather than show remorse for what he calls a consensual 2004 encounter with Andrea Constand, a former professional basketball player who worked for his alma mater, Temple University, in Philadelphia.

Cosby won a shot at reversing his conviction earlier this year, when the state Supreme Court agreed to review two central trial issues: the other accuser testimony and Cosby’s claim that a former prosecutor had promised he could never be charged in the case.

Cosby’s lawyers said they relied on that promise when they let him testify in a civil suit that Constand filed in 2005, shortly after the suburban Philadelphia prosecutor declined to arrest Cosby. A successor, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, arrested Cosby a decade later after the comedian’s damaging deposition from the lawsuit was unsealed.

Click to play video: 'Prosecutor in BIll Cosby sexual assault case opens up'
Prosecutor in BIll Cosby sexual assault case opens up

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, in a brief in support of Steele, said the Cosby camp’s decision to rely on an unwritten promise before he testified in such “a grave matter … was unreasonable.”

Story continues below advertisement

The Supreme Court has not yet set a date for oral arguments. Other groups filing legal briefs in the appeal include the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, known as RAINN; the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

Read more: Bill Cosby granted appeal in Pennsylvania sex assault case involving Toronto-area woman

Read next: How old electric car batteries could power the future

Cosby was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault based on charges that he drugged and molested Constand after she came to his house for career advice. The five other accusers who testified for the prosecution said they believed he also drugged and sexually assaulted them in the 1980s.

Pennsylvania case law suggests that judges should carefully thread the needle when it comes to testimony about “prior bad acts,” allowing it only for a few specific reasons, such as to show a “signature” crime pattern.

Cosby’s trial judge, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill, said their testimony did just that, even if it occurred a decade or two before Constand’s encounter.

Sponsored content