Back in June, Bill Cosby walked out of prison on a technicality — three years after a jury found him guilty on multiple counts of sexual assault and about a month after a panel denied him parole. The decision to vacate his conviction felt shocking and unexpected to many given how many women have come forward to corroborate the comedian’s M.O. In November, prosecutors asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling, hoping the bench would “right what we believe is a grievous wrong.” Four months later, the justices have declined that request. They did not explain their reasoning at all, simply slotting Cosby’s case in alongside all the others they rejected on Monday. That lack of transparency is to be expected, but it may also be frustrating for those who understood Cosby’s early release (and his utter lack of remorse) as a failure of the legal system.
Complications in Cosby’s case stem from a deal he struck in 2005 as Bruce Castor, then the district attorney of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, weighed whether to prosecute him for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand the year before. Cosby agreed to a deposition in a subsequent civil suit — in which he admitted to giving women Quaaludes in order to facilitate sex — but only if he could be sure his words would not result in criminal charges. In 2016, Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled that the agreement was not legally binding, and two years later, Cosby received a three-to-ten-year prison sentence for three counts of aggravated indecent assault. The matter seemed settled until this summer, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby’s conviction on grounds that Castor’s promise meant he never should have been prosecuted at all.
Last November, current Montgomery County district attorney Kevin Steele filed a petition asking the Court to step in. A statement explained the D.A.’s central question this way: “Where a prosecutor publicly announces that he will not file criminal charges based on lack of evidence, does the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment transform that announcement into a binding promise that no charges will ever be filed, a promise that the target may rely on as if it were a grant of immunity?” But the Court typically awards oral arguments to about 80 of the 7,000 to 8,000 petitions filed each term, per the Washington Post — very slim acceptance odds.
Meanwhile, Cosby has always maintained his innocence. His spokesperson, Andrew Wyatt, previously said Steele’s appeal asked the Supreme Court to “throw the Constitution out the window” in “a pathetic last-ditch effort that will not prevail.” But maybe the upcoming civil suit against him — for his (alleged) assault of a 15-year-old in 1974 — will?
This article has been updated.