The Bill Cosby Mistrial
On Saturday, June 17th, 2017, the trial of famed comedian Bill Cosby was declared a mistrial due to a hung jury. Cosby was charged for the 2004 sexual assault of Andrea Constand that was recently brought to light. Over the past two years, almost sixty women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexually assaulting them. The women’s stories span decades, telling eerily similar stories of being drugged and then raped. However, the statute of limitations for most of these incidents has long since passed. In the state of Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for rape, sexual assault or abuse is 12 years. Consequently, Cosby is facing at least ten civil lawsuits brought by women who cannot pursue criminal charges.
In late 2015, three felony charges of indecent assault were brought against Cosby. For each charge, he faces a maximum of ten years in prison. He is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Constand in 2004 at his home near Philadelphia.
The jurors took six days to deliberate before they declared a hung jury. During this time, they asked to hear several testimonies again, including Cosby’s testimony that the sexual activity was consensual. They also requested clarification of the term “reasonable doubt” and its applications to the case. “Reasonable doubt” is any amount of doubt that causes a juror to be unsure of the defendant’s guilt. This means that if a juror is almost convinced that the defendant is guilty, but still has some doubts, this constitutes reasonable doubt and the juror should vote for acquittal. This element of reasonable doubt is likely what caused the hung jury. Evidently, some jurors had doubts and some did not.
The prosecution in this case argued that Cosby drugged Constand by giving her pills that rendered her immobile and semi-conscious, before touching her without consent. The defense argued that Cosby and Constand had a romantic relationship and engaged in consensual sexual acts, and that the pills given to Constand were only Benadryl. The most important aspect of the case hinged on whether or not consent was given for the acts in question.
During the 2005 civil suit brought against Cosby by Constand, he admitted to keeping Quaaludes in order to give to women that he wanted to sleep with. However, the drugs in question are commonly used as party drugs, and it is possible that some jurors believed Constand took the pills consensually before engaging in sexual acts with Cosby.
Another element that may have caused jurors to doubt is that the incident between Cosby and Constand occurred thirteen years before the trial. They may have doubted the ability of both parties to deliver consistent testimony of an event that occurred more than a decade ago. Jurors do not need to think Constand lied in order to acquit Cosby. All that it takes is the realization that human memory is imperfect and mistakes can be made.
By lunchtime on Saturday, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele announced that his office would retry Cosby, and that Constand is on board and ready to testify again.