Vermont legal experts weigh in after Bill Cosby is freed from prison

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Bill Cosby gestures outside his home in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after being released from prison. Pennsylvania’s highest court has overturned comedian Cosby’s sex assault conviction. The court said Wednesday, that they found an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case. The 83-year-old Cosby had served more than two years at the state prison near Philadelphia and was released.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s sex convictions, freeing from prison.

After serving less than the minimum of his 3-10 year sentence, Cosby walks free. However, the decision to vacate his conviction doesn’t negate the fact that he committed numerous crimes. 

“Certainly, this is a dark day for the U.S. criminal justice system,” said Vermont Law School’s Constitutional Law Professor Jared Carter.

He says Cosby’s case was overturned because of a procedural error in his trial.

“It’s really important I think for people to understand, it’s not about what we call the “merits of the case.” It’s not about whether Bill Cosby did these things. It’s really about a misstep in the process,” said Carter.

The state’s highest court vacated Cosby’s sentence due to a prior legal agreement that he wouldn’t be prosecuted. After Cosby testified, a subsequent prosecutor charged him anyway.

But on Wednesday, the court ruled that the trial violated his 5th and 14th Amendment rights to due process and threw out his convictions. 

“It really drives home for victims of sexual assault who are way disporpotionately women but not only women, that the system is stacked against them,” said University of Vermont’s Ellen Andersen.

Andersen is both a constitutional law professor and gender, sexuality and women studies professor at UVM.

“This is not a story of a man who is innocent and unjustly prosecuted. This is a story of a clearly guilty man who’s rights were violated in a pretty significant way during the prosecution,” said Andersen.   

Cosby was the first celebrity to be tried and convicted in the #metoo era. Andersen says his release is based on a constitutional and procedural error, not on the crimes he did, in fact, commit and admit to doing. 

It’s unlikely for Cosby’s case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. With jeopardy attached, he has the right not to be tried for the same crime. Meaning, Wednesday could mark the end of this legal road. 

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