A bad but necessary outcome in the Bill Cosby case

Christopher Clugston was convicted of a crime and sent to prison. He was finally released over a decade later because of the weakness of the case against him, but not before he was gang raped and infected with AIDS. Bernard Baran was sent to prison for a crime he did not commit. He was raped 30 times while in prison. The cases of Clugston and Baran, as well as the Central Park Five and others, remind us of the importance of civil rights and due process for those accused of crimes.

This is what we need to keep in mind as we think about the Bill Cosby case. Cosby is almost certainly guilty, and in a perfect world he not only would not have been released from prison, he would be executed for his crimes. But we do not live in a perfect world, and we have much more to fear from a government that does not abide by basic due process rules than we do from criminals.

Cosby was told that he would not be prosecuted for a 2004 rape, because the state did not have a strong enough case to convict him. So the state pulled a bait-and-switch: He was compelled to testify in a civil case against him, and then the next prosecutor used the sworn statements in the civil trial against him in a criminal trial. Cosby would never have admitted his guilt in that civil trial had he not been promised he would not be prosecuted. This was a clear violation of Cosby’s Fifth Amendment rights.

Had the state supreme court not ruled in Cosby’s favor and he remained behind bars, I would have no sympathy for him. But the issue is much bigger than Bill Cosby. The issue is whether a government can run over Constitutional limits in order to get the outcome they want, even if that outcome is just. Had the government been allowed to get away with this behavior, it would set a frightening precedent for others, especially those who do not have the financial resources of a famous comedian. Sometimes a morally bad outcome is necessary to preserve liberty for everyone else and restrain an abusive government.