Bill Cosby's Surprising Release From Prison Has The Internet Fuming

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court just overturned actor and comedian Bill Cosby's sexual assault conviction, according to U.S. News. The court found that Cosby's agreement with a previous prosecutor was "an affront to fundamental fairness," and as such he had been denied a fair trial in 2018, per The New York Times, NBC News. As a result, Cosby was released from prison on Wednesday afternoon, after serving just over two years of a three- to 10-year sentence in a maximum-security prison outside of Philadelphia. His publicist, Andrew Wyatt, picked him up and drove him to his Pennsylvania home, via ABC News. "What we saw today was justice, justice for all Americans," Wyatt said. Jennifer Bonjean, an appellate attorney for Cosby, said, "He served three years [sic] of an unjust sentence. He did it with dignity, principle and he was a mentor to other inmates. He was really, as I say, doing the time. The time was not doing him."

The high court's opinion is in contrast to that of an interim court, which upheld the trial verdict in 2019. "When an unconditional charging decision is made publicly and with the intent to induce action and reliance by the defendant, and when the defendant does so to his detriment (and in some instances upon the advice of counsel), denying the defendant the benefit of that decision is an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was foregone for more than a decade," the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion reads, per NBC News.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Critics and media personalities have voiced their disbelief on Twitter

For many, Bill Cosby's conviction in 2018 felt like positive change in Hollywood and beyond. Now, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's reversal of the decision is a step backward in the eyes of the #MeToo movement, as Bloomberg News notes. In the future, prosecutors could be more wary of calling other accusers in similar cases.

Many critics and influencers voiced their anger at the decision on social media. "On today's episode of 'How the Justice System Fails Victims': Bill Cosby is released on a technicality," former Congresswoman Katie Hill tweeted. "When you're a star, they let you do it ... Bill Cosby is a free man. The rich and powerful play by their own rules," writer Wajahat Ali wrote.

Businesswoman Shannon Coulter pointed out why the decision was painful for sexual assault survivors. "Here are the SIXTY women who came forward with accusations against Bill Cosby. I never want to hear the question 'Why didn't she come forward?' again in my life," Coulter wrote, attaching a USA Today article listing Cosby accusers.

Meanwhile, Cosby's former co-star and Howard University's Dean, Phylicia Rashad, voiced her happiness on Twitter. "FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected," she wrote. The post garnered intense backlash, and Rashad quickly restricted commenting on the tweet. Howard University also released a statement late on Wednesday, stating that Rashad's comments "lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault," via Twitter, The Washington Post.

Bill Cosby continues to deny any wrongdoing, Andrea Constand reacts

Approximately 60 people have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, though most of their allegations were not usable due to statute-of-limitations laws, per USA Today. Just five accusers were allowed to testify at the retrial, but the allegations of all the accusers were harrowing. Still, Cosby has always denied ever engaging in non-consensual sex or sexual acts. On Wednesday, he posted a statement to his personal Twitter account. "I have never changed my stance nor my story," it reads. "I have always maintained my innocence. Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal. Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law."

Andrea Constand, the main accuser in Bill Cosby's case, released a statement with her attorneys on Wednesday in response to the decision. "Today's majority decision regarding Bill Cosby is not only disappointing but of concern in that it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant or may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action," the statement reads, via CNN.

More on Bill Cosby's overturned conviction, and what could happen now

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges wrote in a 79-page opinion that Bill Cosby should never have been charged in the case. They said that there was a "vast" violation of Cosby's due process rights when he was criminally charged and convicted, because a previous prosecutor declined to prosecute him in order to persuade him to sit for a civil deposition instead, per The New York Times, CNN. The court said that the civil deposition was then used against him in the criminal trial. In addition, Cosby's lawyers argued in the appeal that "prior bad act witnesses" testified in Cosby's second trial, and unfairly prejudiced the jury, via Vulture. It was a 6-to-1 ruling and two of the judges dissented on the remedy, which barred a retrial.

In effect, Cosby cannot be tried again for those same charges, according to Vulture. There is a possibility that he could face new charges if new, credible accusers come forward, though they would have to do so within the statute of limitations.