Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jan 1, 2016

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Legendary comedian Bill Cosby has been arrested and formally charged in Pennsylvania for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting a woman who he encountered in 2004.  The charges are the latest development in the highly public investigation of the 78-year-old Crosby who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women across the United States.

Bill Cosby Faces Rape Charges in Pennsylvania

The case against Cosby is the result of accusations brought by Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, who claims she was assaulted by the comedian in 2004.  According to Constand, Cosby gave her three pills which he called “herbal medication” that caused her to feel weak and eventually feel a lower state of consciousness.  While she was unable to respond or resist, Cosby allegedly engaged in sexual intercourse without her consent.  Although Constand reported the incident a year after it occurred, and settled a civil lawsuit against Cosby in 2006, no criminal charges were brought against the comedian until this week.

With several more reported incidents of rape fueling public outrage, prosecutors in Pennsylvania reopened the investigation earlier this year and ultimately issue an order for Cosby’s arrest.  For his part Cosby has maintained his sexual encounter with Constand was consensual, and attorneys representing the actor have vowed to mount a vigorous defense against these charges and any other which may emerge from the rising tide of allegations.  The timing of the charges against Cosby highlights another legal wrinkle in the case – if prosecutors had waited only a few more weeks the statute of limitations on the alleged sexual assault would have run and Cosby could not have been charged.

Cosby Allegations Face Statue of Limitations

The Cosby case has raised attention to a debate among legal professionals regarding statute of limitations on sexual assault and rape cases.  With many of the more than 50 women who have accused Cosby of rape unable to have their day in criminal court due to expiring statutes of limitations precluding prosecution of their claims, some legal professionals have used the Cosby case as an example of the negative effects of time limits on filing rape or sexual assault charges.  Thirty four states have enacted statutes of limitations imposing deadlines on prosecuting sex crimes which range from 3 years to more than 30 depending on the state and nature of the alleged crime, but opponents to time restrictions argue the laws serve to restrict prosecution.

Given the sensitive and emotional nature of allegations of sex crimes such as rape or assault, some victims may be hesitant to report incidents for several years.  With statutes of limitations precluding prosecution after a set period of time, reluctance to report alleged sex crimes could prevent prosecutors from filing charges.  Proponents of statutes of limitations argue the laws reduce the likelihood of false allegations based on a long-ago incident.  Evidence erodes as time passes, and statute of limitations laws are designed to prevent situations where defendants cannot mount an adequate legal defense because the evidence of their innocence is no longer available.

The new direction in Cosby’s prosecution came as a result of a changing of the guard at the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania district attorney, but even with a new vigor in the DA’s office the case is far from an easy task.  Bill Cosby’s alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand occurred 12 years ago and in a matter of weeks the state would no longer be able to prosecute.  Facing the expiring statute of limitations, Pennsylvania prosecutors had to hastily build a case using new evidence uncovered in July of this year in order to file before the deadline.  Cosby’s attorneys intend to use the long delay in prosecution as an argument against the validity of the allegations, compounding the already difficult task ahead of prosecutors as they look to quickly compile enough information to build their case. 

Cosby Prosecution Supported by Other Alleged Victims

Although Bill Cosby is only facing criminal charges based on one of the more than fifty alleged incidents of sexual assault, many of the other women who claimed the comedian drugged and raped them have expressed gratitude and a willingness to testify should they be needed.  Many have come forward to major news outlets in order to tell their side of the story and highlight a pattern of sexual assaults committed by Cosby during the 70’s and 80’s.  If convicted, Bill Cosby could face more than a decade in prison.  He is currently out $1 million bail while he awaits the start of his trial.