By Serene Chang and Sydney Kaplan
NORRISTOWN, PA – Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court largely due to former Montgomery County district attorney Bruce Castor’s lack of transparency regarding an alleged non-prosecution agreement, according to observers. And the state Supreme Court.
Although Castor claimed he never entered a formal non-prosecution agreement, the court ruled otherwise.
Most notably, Castor was found to have informed Cosby’s attorney that his office would issue a press release announcing their decision to forgo prosecution for a criminal case brought by Andrea Constand.
“When an unconditional charging decision is made publicly and with the intent to induce action and reliance by the defendant, and when the defendant does so to his detriment (and in some instances upon the advice of counsel), denying the defendant the benefit of that decision is an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was foregone for more than a decade,” writes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The alleged agreement came about in 2005 when Castor assured Cosby that he would not be charged for sexual assault against Constand in exchange for Cosby to relinquish his Fifth Amendment rights in an ongoing civil suit against him. Castor issued this supposed agreement in a press release outlining the non-prosecution agreement.
Despite this press release, Castor neglected to write this agreement in a way that conserved its original intentions. The ill effects of this oversight were seen when the new district attorney decided to move forward with the Cosby case.
The non-prosecution understanding was made between Castor and Cosby’s original defense attorney, however, the original defense attorney had died before the DA made the decision to prosecute.
As a result, Cosby was fully dependent on Castor’s memory in advising later prosecutors, further complicating the problems that arose.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in turn, ruled that pursuing charges in Constand’s criminal case would violate Cosby’s constitutional rights.
Castor’s primary reasoning for rejecting prosecution against Cosby was because he believed Constand’s case lacked physical evidence and he deemed Constand as “uncredible” and “unreliable.”
“In Pennsylvania, we charge people for criminal conduct. We don’t charge people with making a mistake or doing something foolish,” Castor said to the press in 2005.
When this issue was brought to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, Justice Kevin Dougherty and Chief Justice Max Baer had, respectfully, a concurring and dissenting opinion.
Dougherty speculated Castor’s “shifting” explanations of his intention in the supposed non-prosecution agreement are based on undisclosed abuses of power, although no evidence of corruption has been revealed.
Castor’s lack of transparency cost numerous victims from receiving justice by the means of the court, Cosby’s detractors said.
The consequences of this neglect were vocalized by the cases’ victim Andrea Constand in a statement issued to her lawyers.
Constand stated the court’s ruling was “not only disappointing but of concern in that it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant or may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action.”