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Statutes, Retrials & Double Jeopardy

If you have seen the news this week, you may have noticed that actor and comedian Bill Cosby is back in court over charges of sexual assault.  While that may not be big news, the overall landscape regarding his crimes is big news.  His alleged crimes, the way they occurred and the way they were reported has brought about a tidal wave of discussion about our nation’s laws regarding statues, retrials,  & double jeopardy.

Statute of Limitations

Every state has a defined time period for reporting each crime.  This is known as the Statute of Limitations (SOL).  For example, some states require that a charge of rape be reported within 15 years.  Others may require it be reported within 6 years.  Some states have no SOL.  For example, the crime of Murder has no SOL in any state.

Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes span from the 1960’s through the late 2000’s.  However, most of these were never officially acted upon and gained little notice even when they were reported.  Then came Andrea Constand.  In 2005 Andrea Constand went to the police about an incident in 2004, well within the SOL in Pennsylvania.   While others were beginning to come forward with similar claims, comedian Hannibal Buress took the stage and called out “America’s Dad” as a hypocrite.  Buress stated  “Bill Cosby has the … smuggest old black man public persona that I hate,” “He gets on TV: ‘Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.'”1  This routine went viral across social media and media networks took notice.  Within two weeks, the networks pulled all reruns of “The Cosby Show” from the air.  Suddenly, those allegations against Mr. Cosby took on a new life.

More Charges

Ms. Constand was only one of more than two dozen women who came forward with claims of sexual abuse. 1  It soon became obvious that charges against Mr. Cosby could no longer be ignored.  By the end of 2014 nearly 50 women had come forward with allegations against Mr. Cosby prompting the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to file charges, just before the end of the Statute of Limitations period was set to expire.  Pennsylvania’s SOL for sexual assault at the time was 12 years.

The Trial

Bill Cosby’s jury selection began in May of 2017, over 15 years after the original complaint was made by Ms. Constand.  His trial was front and center in the news.  After a 5 days, the jury handed the case, gave it back to the judge unable to come to a verdict.  The judge declared a mistrial.

The Re-Trial

Staying true to their word, prosecutors of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began with the Cosby retrial in April of 2018.  Capitalizing on mistakes they may have seen from last time, attorneys plan to dig in against Cosby.

Defense attorneys remain steadfast that these allegations are nothing more than schemes to exhort money from a powerful, wealthy man.  The man who America adores.  America’s Dad.

What exactly are the crimes that Cosby is charged with? According to Ms. Constand, she was visiting Mr. Cosby in 2004.  When she complained of a headache, he provided her with 3 blue pills.  She states that she was then in and out of consciousness, waking to find find herself partly unclothed.  Mr. Cosby states they did have sexual contact; he states it was consensual.  Oh, and the medication he gave her? It was an herbal remedy – nothing more.  It’s the classic he-said, she-said, except there are numerous SHE-saids in this situation.

Double Jeopardy

You may have wondered how can Bill Cosby be re-tried if he has already been tried once? Don’t we have protections against that?  We do have protections against double jeopardy under the 5th Amendment.  Double jeopardy “attaches” in a jury trial, when the jury is sworn or in a bench trial, after the first witness is sworn.  Once attached, double jeopardy protects an individual from being prosecuted a second time after either an acquittal or a conviction.  Therefore, when a case results in a “mistrial,” where no verdict is rendered, the government can elect to have a second trial for the same charges.  Conversely, if Cosby had been acquitted, a second trial would be impermissible.  Bottom line, because the trial was incomplete, there is no harm of double jeopardy here.

The Overall Effect

The allegations brought out by the Cosby case has had a huge effect on law throughout many areas of the country.  For example, women who were afraid to step forward against someone as famous as Bill Cosby have found the strength to do so.  Women in Hollywood have begun to speak out against powerful men in authority.  States have begun to look at their laws regarding  their Statutes of Limitations for cases involving sexual assault.  In fact, California has since removed the Statute of Limitations for sexual assaults in direct response to this case.  Many states no longer have SOL for rape.

If you are in need of legal counsel or advice in New Hampshire or Massachusetts,  contact us.  If you have been convicted of a crime and need legal advice to navigate the appeals process, Christine can help you with that process.  Time is critical in an appeals situation.  Contact her here to schedule an appointment.

Always remember, if you or someone you love are ever in a harmful situation, please contact the authorities immediately. Safety always comes first.


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