Bill Cosby won’t face prosecution for most of the rape allegations against him. But he could still face serious consequences.
After newly released court documents revealed that Cosby admitted to getting drugs to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex, his accusers were elated. Several said they’ve been waiting decades for some sort of vindication after being called liars.
So what recourse do they have now, after the criminal statute of limitations has passed in many cases? And what are the chances that Cosby could still face his accusers in court?
Criminal charges still possible
Many of Cosby’s dozens of accusers said he raped, sexually assaulted or drugged them as early as the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
But Chloe Goins said Cosby assaulted her in 2008. She came forward to Los Angeles police this year. Her attorney said he believes Goins may be the first accuser to have a case that still falls within the statute of limitations.
Goins said Cosby sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion.
“She was drugged. She doesn’t know what happened. She blacked out and woke up finding Mr. Cosby over her as she was in a state of complete undress,” attorney Spencer Kuvin said in January.
On Wednesday, Kuvin said that he had been in touch with the state’s attorney and reminded that his client’s case falls within the statute of limitations in both criminal and civil court. He offered no further comment.
No charges have been filed against Cosby. The 77-year-old comedian has vehemently denied wrongdoing, and his publicist said this week he had “no plans to issue a statement.”
Former DA: There wasn’t enough evidence
Cosby’s admission about his drugs intended for women came during his sworn deposition in Andrea Constand’s 2005 civil suit. Constand said Cosby gave her medication that made her dizzy, and she later woke up to find her bra undone and her clothes in disarray.
So why wasn’t Cosby criminally charged then?
There wasn’t enough evidence, said Bruce Castor, who was the local district attorney at the time.
Even Cosby’s newly publicized civil deposition wouldn’t be enough to prosecute, Castor told CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday.
“Under Pennsylvania law, the statements of a suspect are not admissible until … you can independently prove that a crime was committed,” Castor said.
“The basic problem always remained that we didn’t have any forensics or anything to tell us what had happened because of the delay of a year between when the event occurred and when Andrea Constand came in to police.”
While Cosby admitted that he acquired seven prescriptions of sedatives with the intent to give them to women he wanted to have sex with, he has not admitted to actually drugging any of his accusers.
More civil cases possible
But Cosby could certainly find himself back in court if more accusers file civil lawsuits.
“A prosecutor has the challenge of the burden (of proof) beyond a reasonable doubt,” CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said. “However, a civil case is an entirely different matter”
Cevallos said there is a lower burden in civil cases.
“To get this case before any court will require a creative theory of liability on the civil side.”
Why statutes of limitations even exist
There are several purposes of statutes of limitations for criminal charges. The laws help prevent fraudulent claims after evidence or witnesses are long gone. They also help protect would-be defendants from faulty memories or testimonies of plaintiffs or witnesses who are trying to recall what happened long ago.
But some activists, such as former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, have tried to remove statutes of limitations for sexual assault cases.
“I will classify sexual assault at the same level as other heinous crimes such as murder and manslaughter and human trafficking, which have no statute of limitations,” Davis told reporters last year. “Eight states are already doing so.”
There are other reasons why activists want to eliminate statutes of limitations on sexual assault cases. Sometimes the victims are too ashamed or too afraid to come forward until years later — especially if the assault took place when they were young.
Then there’s the case of Lavinia Masters. The Texas woman was raped in 1985, when she was 13 years old. She went to police right away and had DNA evidence collected, but good DNA testing wasn’t available back then.
It wasn’t until 20 years later that the DNA evidence was tested, with much better technology. Authorities were able to identify the man who raped her. But by then, the statute of limitations had already passed.
Accusers feel vindicated regardless
Joan Tarshis, who said Cosby raped her when she was 19, said she felt vindicated by Cosby’s admission. Like many of the accusers, Tarshis said she was too petrified to speak out against the superstar.
“I kept it a secret because I was afraid to talk about it, because of Mr. Cosby’s power. Then, when we came out, and lots of other women started to come out, we were called liars,” she said.
“And now that the truth has come out — that he has bought drugs in order to drug women to have sex with him — I’m just so relieved that the truth has come out.”
Model and actress Beverly Johnson, who said Cosby drugged her in the 1980s, said Cosby’s admission doesn’t shock her.
“The truth has no expiration date on it,” she said.
And while it may be too late for Barbara Bowman to push for criminal charges, she the revelation is a “game changer.”
“I think we’re going to be heard now,” said Bowman, who accused Cosby of raping her when she was a teen actress. “I think this is just the beginning.”