Lessons to Take Away from the Court Ruling that Overturned Bill Cosby’s Criminal Conviction

Public perception of the criminal justice system can be skewed. People follow cases on TV or the internet, they form opinions, then they want the “bad guy” punished. They often don’t care about the finer points of proper criminal procedure… right until they are the person facing a potential criminal conviction. That’s when they gain a whole new understanding of the importance of fundamental fairness in a criminal case. Part of ensuring fundamental fairness in your case is exercising your right to obtain a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney.

Back in late June, in a ruling that made headlines around the world, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania tossed the sex crimes conviction of famed comedian and actor Bill Cosby.

A lot of people were very angry about Cosby being set free. Undeniably, the things of which he was accused were abhorrent. However, if one digs deeper into what the Supreme Court ruled, one can see the fundamental notions of fairness that undergird our criminal system required the outcome the court reached.

After the alleged victim came forward in 2005, the county’s district attorney (the equivalent of a circuit’s state’s attorney in Florida) looked at the case and concluded that, based on the admissible proof that he had, the evidence was insufficient to prove Cosby’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecutor formally declined to prosecute, issuing a press release to that effect in February 2005. That had a very important collateral impact. It meant that the alleged victim could sue Cosby and that Cosby, in his civil litigation depositions, could not use the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to refuse to testify. As a result, Cosby was deposed and made potentially incriminating statements.

A new district attorney took over in 2008 and decided to prosecute Cosby, successfully obtaining the conviction that put him behind bars. Part of the proof she presented was Cosby’s inculpatory statements from the civil depositions.

That was a problem, according to the Supreme Court. Criminal justice in this country requires that the accused get a fair shake throughout the process. In the Cosby case, one district attorney declined to prosecute him, which forced Cosby to testify in the civil case under penalty of perjury and without any right to refuse based on the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Then the next district attorney took those statements from the civil case and used them to gain a criminal conviction.

While acknowledging the hideousness of the alleged conduct, this still was not a fair process. As the court stated, “when a prosecutor makes an unconditional promise of non-prosecution, and when the defendant relies upon that guarantee to the detriment of his constitutional right not to testify, the principle of fundamental fairness that undergirds due process of law in our criminal justice system demands that the [non-prosecution] promise be enforced.”

The Importance of a Non-Prosecution Agreement

If your defense case is strong enough, your skilled attorney may be able to persuade the state’s attorney to drop the charges against you and enter into an agreement to that effect. Much the same is true in federal court. If you are under investigation and you have strong evidence calling into question the strength of the proof against you, your legal team may be able to reach a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney.

In some circumstances, the alleged victim(s) may have a right to challenge the agreement you and the U.S. Attorney reached but it is important to note that, if you worked out that agreement before an indictment and before charges were filed, then the alleged victim(s) have no legal right to contest. We know this because the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings directly impact cases in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia) made such a ruling earlier this year in the criminal case of the infamous financial advisor, Jeffrey Epstein.

When you are facing potential criminal charges, you are entitled to a defense that fully utilizes the protections the law affords you, and you deserve to have that kind of diligent defense. Look to the experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. to be that kind of powerful advocate for you. Call us as soon as possible so that we can begin taking action on your behalf. Contact us at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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