Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial has ended in a hung jury. You may find this surprising since the weight of the evidence–or at least public opinion–largely pointed to Cosby’s guilt. But in criminal trials, judges instruct the members of the jury to acquit defendants if they have any reasonable doubt about their guilt. In this case, the defense successfully convinced at least some of the jurors that there was a reasonable possibility that Cosby did not sexually assault Andrea Constand, the alleged victim.
Dozens of women have come forward about being sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. Many of them–including Constand–have sued him in civil court and recovered settlements. In one such case, Cosby was on record admitting that he kept Quaaludes with the intention of using them to get women to have sex with him. With all these facts in the jurors’ minds, why did the prosecutor fail to obtain Cosby’s conviction for sexual assault?
Criminal Convictions Must Rest on Certainty
Shortly after the alleged incident, the prosecutor declined to file charges against Cosby in 2005 because he considered that the available evidence would be insufficient to prove Cosby’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. But after Cosby’s statements about giving Quaaludes to unsuspecting women were released, and with a new, more aggressive prosecutor in office, Cosby was charged formally with aggravated indecent assault on December 30, 2015.
The charges allege that late one evening in 2004, Constand came to Cosby’s house after drinking wine with some friends. Cosby gave Constand some Benedryl, which made her unable to move and caused her to enter a state of semi-consciousness. During this time, Cosby allegedly touched Constand’s breasts and vagina before placing her hand on his penis. A few hours later, she remembered waking up with her clothes scattered around the room.
The Defense Effectively Sowed Doubt in the Juror’s Minds
In all but two states, Louisiana and Oregon, criminal convictions in the United States require a unanimous jury decision. According to statements from (anonymous) jurors in the Cosby case, the jury stood at 10 – 2 in favor of convicting him on the charges of digital penetration without consent and drugging without knowledge or consent. With respect to the charge that Constand was unconscious during the assault, the jury stood at 11 – 1 in favor of a conviction.
Cosby’s lawyers worked hard to highlight inconsistencies in Constand’s testimony, and to portray her intercourse with Cosby as consensual. Indeed, there was evidence that she continued to meet with Cosby after the alleged assault, even introducing him to her parents shortly thereafter and calling him on at least 50 occasions. This defense strategy was effective: one of the jurors told CNN that the deadlock was largely the result of confusion stemming from Constand’s testimony.
Is Bill Cosby Off the Hook?
On the day that the judge declared a mistrial, the prosecutors requested a new trial, which has been scheduled for November of this year. The outcome of this trial will depend on whether any additional evidence emerges–which is unlikely–or the new jury, which may reach different conclusions based on the same evidence.
But once again, the prosecutors will bear the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a concept that the jurors in this summer’s case were confused about. At one point during their 52 hours of deliberation, they requested clarification from the judge about just what a reasonable doubt is: any fact that makes a juror hesitate about the defendant’s guilt. So, it is very likely that in the new trial, Cosby’s lawyers will find a way to make the jurors hesitate again.
The prosecution’s burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt stems from an Eighteenth-century legal maxim formulated by William Blackstone. The idea being that it is more just for ten guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to suffer a false conviction. Add to this, the requirement of a unanimous jury to support a conviction, and essentially you have a criminal justice system that favors the defendants–so long as they benefit from effective legal representation.
Houston sexual assault lawyer Ned Barnett has a deep understanding of the criminal justice system, and his experience as both a prosecutor and defense lawyer has enabled him to achieve an outstanding record of helping his clients avoid convictions and achieve favorable results. Even when all the odds seem stacked against you, there could be a way to win your case.