Are you shocked that Bill Cosby is now free? I was, but now that I know more about the circumstances, I'd be shocked if he weren't.
I'm not one to follow the high-profile prosecutions, especially of celebrities, that are so popular in the news media. I know I'm unusual in not having watched a single minute of the O. J. Simpson trial, for example. Call me weird, but I see no reason to put myself in the position of mentally convicting or acquitting the person being tried unless I'm actually on the jury and have all the legally relevant information.
It is, however, impossible to avoid all the publicity that comes with such trials, and Bill Cosby was familiar to me because of his comedy sketches when I was young. I had a few of his records. I still quote some of his lines, e.g. "Hey, you! Almost-a-doctor!" from the story of getting his tonsils out (15 minutes).
If anyone is shocked that I would publish one of Cosby's works "after what he did," I say that great works have been done by terrible people, and if we reject everything based on the sins of the workers in other areas of life, we won't have a whole lot left.
Be that as it may, the issue isn't Cosby's comedy but his trial, which was a long story, to which, as I said, I didn't pay much attention. When I heard that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had thrown out his conviction, my immediate, ignorant, reaction was, "another criminal released on a stupid technicality!"
Not exactly. Viva Frei explains it well here (14 minutes).
If you'd rather not watch the video, the short version, as I understand it—and I certainly don't claim to know the laws—is that the district attorney had decided that he did not have a strong enough case against Cosby to expect a conviction, and that by not pursuing a criminal trial he would make it more likely that the alleged victim would get justice in civil proceedings. Which apparently she did, thanks to the fact that Cosby, freed from the fear of prosecution, made some pretty damning confessions in the civil trial. However, when a new district attorney took over, he did not feel himself bound by his predecessor's decision, and went ahead and prosecuted Cosby, using his civil testimony against him, and thus obtained a conviction. Apparently "pleading the Fifth Amendment" is reserved for criminal cases, and one can be forced to self-incriminate in civil cases. Who knew? The trial court judge allowed this to happen, having decided that there was no "real" agreement between the former DA and Cosby that should tie their hands.
Here is a very small part of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision:
Starting with D.A. Castor's inducement, Cosby gave up a fundamental constitutional right, was compelled to participate in a civil case after losing that right, testified against his own interests, weakened his position there and ultimately settled the case for a large sum of money, was tried twice in criminal court, was convicted, and has served several years in prison. All of this started with D. A. Castor's compulsion of Cosby's reliance upon a public proclamation that Cosby would not be prosecuted. ... There is only one remedy that can completely restore Cosby to the status quo ante. He must be discharged, and any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred. ... A contrary result would be patently untenable. It would violate long-cherished principles of fundamental fairness. It would be antithetical to, and corrosive of, the integrity and functionality of the criminal justice system that we strive to maintain.
In other words, the end does not justify the means. A result cannot be just if it is obtained by cheating. As my attorney friend—who has served much time on both prosecution and defense—tells me, even the worst criminal deserves the benefit of the law. It's time to pull out A Man for All Seasons again (5 minutes).
Much as we might not like it, the same rights and rules that protect us also protect criminals. The First Amendment has the same "problem."