PHILADELPHIA (KDKA) — On Tuesday morning, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard an attorney for actor Bill Cosby argue that his conviction for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand should be overturned.
That’s because the trial judge allowed five other women to testify about their own alleged sexual abuse decades earlier.
When you’re accused of a crime, that crime stands alone.
Juries are generally not allowed to hear about other prior bad acts, especially if you were never charged.
DEVELOPING: Bill Cosby’s appeal to Pa. Supreme Court is streaming live on YouTube. Cosby’s lawyer is arguing prior bad acts witnesses and a deposition regarding Andrea Constand were unfairly prejudicial. We can’t show you any of the hearing under threat of sanction by the court. pic.twitter.com/Yon3K6tneC
— Joe Holden (@JoeHoldenCBS3) December 1, 2020
There are some exceptions, but local criminal defense attorneys say the Cosby trial judge went too far.
Criminal defense attorney Phil DiLucente says it was highly prejudicial to Cosby for the jury to hear witnesses talk of their experiences when they were not involved in the specific case for which Cosby was charged.
“It’s a back doorway for the Commonwealth to say his character is tainted,” DiLucente told KDKA’s Jon Delano.
DiLucente says allowing prosecutors to bring up a defendant’s past is a slippery slope because everyone has done something that a jury might frown on, even if it has nothing to do with the case before them.
“There will not be anyone on the face of the Commonwealth that’s charged with a crime that will not be convicted,” says DiLucente.
But if the defendant has committed a similar crime in the past, says defense attorney Blaine Jones, judges may allow the jury to learn about it.
“Because the robbery five years ago was very similar to the present charge my client faced, the judge let it in,” said Jones, describing one of his cases.
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That client had a record of robberies unlike Cosby who had no prior sexual assault convictions.
That’s a big problem, says Jones.
“Prior bad acts, Jon, doesn’t have to be a conviction. It can just be a prior bad act. That’s the tough part when you’re a defense attorney because now I’m defending in front of a jury the prior bad act and I’m defending against the case itself,” says Jones. “And it’s difficult.”
Judging by the justices’ questions during the oral argument, it’s possible they will find the trial judge went too far in allowing these five women to testify, but nobody will know until their decision is made sometime next year.