After an incredibly long period of deliberation – 52 hours – a Pennsylvania jury recently announced that it could not reach a unanimous decision regarding any of the criminal charges against Bill Cosby involving his alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand. The judge was forced to declare a mistrial and the prosecutor has already declared that their office intends to retry the case with a new jury. Of course, this now begs the questions: 1) what went wrong for the prosecution, and 2) what could they do differently to get a conviction? Matthew Galluzzo, a criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor, offers a few thoughts on the subject.
First and foremost, sex crimes cases involving acquaintances are among the most difficult cases in which to secure convictions. Some talking heads in the media seem to think that this case should have been an easy conviction but that presumption simply belies the reality of what happens in criminal court. These types of cases are inherently challenging for prosecutors for several reasons that were at issue here.
To begin, these “he said/she said” sexual assault cases depend enormously on the credibility of the accuser, and the defense attorneys did everything that they should have done as advocates for their client to raise doubts about Ms. Constand. First, they highlighted her inconsistent statements to law enforcement about the incident. Nothing torpedoes a sex crimes case faster than inconsistent reports from the accuser. After all, inconsistent statements also tend to be made more often by liars than by those telling the truth. Inconsistent statements by the complainant suggest that the complainant has little respect for the truth and thus cannot be trusted to tell it at trial under oath. They also tend to suggest that the complainant has a nefarious agenda that causes him or her to “tailor” her testimony to her audience be perceived more favorably or to increase his/her chances of success. Understandably, defense attorneys always pounce on evidence that suggests those things and they did in this case. Specifically, they argued (as they should have) that the complainant was an attention-seeking, money-grubbing liar who had attempted to minimize her prior contacts and relationship with Cosby when initially making her report to law enforcement in an obvious effort to be perceived more favorably by them. They further argued that she had had a consensual romantic relationship with Cosby and only made a report to police when she did not profit from the relationship in the way that she had hoped.