Why Is Bill Cosby Guilty This Time?
In June 2017, Bill Cosby was on trial for aggravated indecent assault. The jury could not come to a unanimous verdict, and the proceedings ended in a mistrial. In April 2018, Bill Cosby was on trial again for similar charges. As you probably heard if you follow any news at all, he was found guilty this time on all three counts.
No new evidence was found between the two trials. Only the prosecution’s approach changed. The different result this time says different things to different people. In this post, it will speak to some realities of the criminal justice system.
Over the last two decades, 57 women came forward at various times claiming that Bill Cosby had committed some form of rape, sexual assault, or other form of sexual misconduct against them. One of those women had her criminal case dismissed more than a decade ago for lack of evidence; however, she had settled a civil suit soon after that.
Rumors and whispers of other offenses finally came to the public’s eye in 2014, when the majority of the 57 women came forward with their claims. The following year, the District Attorney for Montgomery County reopened the case.
The first trial – the one that resulted in a mistrial – largely came down to the testimony of one of Cosby’s accusers against Cosby himself. Immediately after, the District Attorney was already preparing for a second trial with a different approach. He learned after the first trial that additional female witnesses would be necessary.
In the second trial, they used five “prior bad acts witnesses.” These five women had nothing to do with the three counts that Cosby was accused of committing. Instead, their testimony was included to say that Cosby had done other similar bad acts and, therefore, could be seen as guilty of these three counts as well.
The new approach worked. Cosby was found guilty on all three counts. He now awaits sentencing and faces the prospect of up to 30 years in prison. Cosby is 80 years old.
As CNN reported, the second trial had little forensic evidence and the same “he said, she said” dynamic of the first trial. The guilty verdict seems to have been the result of two things: the additional five witnesses and the “cultural shift” of the #MeToo movement. Of course, the #MeToo movement was not officially part of the trial; however, it has had an impact on the way society thinks about sexual assault claims.
If the first jury had found Cosby not guilty, the retrial could not have occurred. Since they were unable to come to a verdict, the District Attorney got to try again. Without physical evidence from an alleged 13-year old sexual assault claim, he did the only thing he could. He got additional “bad acts witnesses” to support the accuser’s claim.
It worked to get a guilty verdict. Did it accomplish justice? That depends on whether or not Cosby committed the crimes. The jury did, and that is what matters. Unfortunately, the verdict also demonstrated just how much the deck is stacked against a defense team and how little it can sometimes take to find someone guilty.
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