The Lead

Following Cosby’s release, two Pa. senators want to mandate written non-prosecution agreements

By: - July 6, 2021 4:11 pm

Senate judiciary chair Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, launches the first day of the Senate’s law enforcement hearings on Wednesday.

In the aftermath of Bill Cosby’s release from prison, the top members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee are drafting legislation that would require all future non-prosecution agreements to be in writing in order to be enforceable.

It’s a proposal Sens. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, the panel’s chairperson, and Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, its ranking Democratic member, believe will prevent another “horrible miscarriage of justice.” 

In a July 1 memo to colleagues seeking support for their legislation, the two lawmakers cited the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s June 30 decision to overturn Cosby’s sexual assault conviction, and said there’s a need for clearer rules regarding the prosecution of crimes.

The 83-year-old actor and comedian walked free last week when the state’s highest court said his due process rights were violated after potentially incriminating testimony — given at an earlier civil trial — was admitted at a subsequent criminal trial.

The court concluded that the testimony was provided after former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor agreed to an enforceable oral non-prosecution agreement with Cosby. Andrea Constand, who accused Cosby of drugging and sexual assault, and her lawyers said they were not aware of the agreement when another district attorney reversed Castor’s decision and charged Cosby, the New York Times reported.

“The oral agreement may be legal for the moment, but it is indefensible given what we have learned about the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment throughout our society,” Baker said in a statement. “The system is slanted too heavily toward perpetrators, discouraging reporting and denying a true chance of justice for those with the fortitude to bring charges.”

The two lawmakers added: “This oral agreement turned into a horrible miscarriage of justice. We must act to prevent a repetition.”

Baker could not be reached for comment on how the proposal will create better guidelines. A spokesperson for Santarsiero said details will be released once the legislation is drafted.

After being convicted in 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting Constand, Cosby served three years of a 3- to 10-year sentence at a state prison; his arrest in 2015 marked one of the first high-profile trials of the #MeToo era.

More than 50 women have come forward with similar accusations against Cosby.

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