What’s the likelihood that Bill Cosby will actually go to jail? Legal experts weigh in
Bill Cosby intends to appeal today’s guilty verdict in his sexual assault retrial.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict,” Cosby’s lead defense attorney, Tom Mesereau, said outside the courtroom. It wasn’t just Cosby’s high-powered team of lawyers who were surprised. The former Cosby Show star himself had an outburst after the decision was read.
So where does the once-beloved television icon go from here? Yahoo Entertainment spoke with legal experts to break down what’s ahead for Cosby.
“At this point, Cosby needs to prepare for his sentencing and then decide whether or not he is going to appeal the guilty verdicts,” says criminal defense attorney and trial lawyer Lisa Houlé. “You have to be formally sentenced in order to be deemed convicted. You have to make that technical step before you can file your appeal.”
No date has been announced for sentencing, but Pennsylvania state law requires that it take place within 100 days, according to AP. The judge said Cosby, 80, could remain free on $1 million bail until sentencing, despite Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele’s request that he be sent to jail immediately. Former prosecutor and public defender Jonathan Mandel says the judge’s decision is not unusual.
“When you set bail, there are two issues: Is he a flight risk or a danger to the community?” Mandel explains. “[Cosby’s] notorious enough that he’s not going to disappear in Honduras … and his advanced age and notoriety makes flight and new offenses unlikely.”
Although Cosby can go home, he’ll be subject to GPS monitoring. The comedian was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault for the 2004 sexual assault of Andrea Constand and faces up to 30 years in prison, which could begin immediately after sentencing.
“If he is sentenced to prison, he would start serving his prison sentence while the appeal is in progress,” says Houlé, who is not involved in the Cosby case but previously worked as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County and has squared off against Cosby’s lead lawyer, Mesereau, on a rape case.
But what is the likelihood that Cosby will serve time behind bars?
“I would be surprised if Cosby is able to completely avoid jail time,” she notes. “Most of these felony sexual assault charges have mandatory state prison terms. His age will certainly be a mitigating factor, and there may be other mitigating factors that his defense team will raise, but in turn, the prosecution is going to raise all of the aggravating factors.”
Mandel absolutely sees jail time in Cosby’s future: “Given the high-profile nature of the case, the #MeToo movement, and the number of [alleged] victims, you can bet Cosby will spend the rest of his life in prison. But in light of his age and lack of risk, he’ll probably be sent to a lower-security prison and, depending on his health, one which either is like an assisted-living home or one near a hospital.”
As Cosby’s lawyer stated, the defense plans to appeal the verdict. According to Houlé, that “can take several years.”
“Generally speaking, a defendant has to file their notice of appeal within 60 days of the conviction, and then that generates the formal appeal process,” she says. “Dates will then get set for the government and the defendant to formally file their paperwork. Once the appellant files the paperwork stating all the grounds or bases for the appeal, the government gets a certain amount of time to respond. Then decisions or hearings usually occur no sooner than nine to 12 months, especially in a case like this, which is a bit complex. I would say it’s going to take, on the early end, a year — and it certainly could take longer.”
She adds, “Then the issues beyond that are whether there could be further appeals to a higher court.”
There’s also the possibility that Cosby will avoid jail time at sentencing. If that’s the case, plan on his legal team drawing out the appeal process as long as possible. “He’s 80 years old; the appeal will probably take [around] a year; he’s going to bring out all of these well-resourced lawyers — in essence, the appeal can be, for him, a way to stay out,” Mandel says. “Given Cosby’s considerable resources, his counsel will leave no appellate stone unturned.”
Houlé’s experience with Cosby’s lead attorney leads her to think that Mesereau — who won an acquittal for Michael Jackson during the star’s 2005 child-molestation trial — is more than prepared for the battle to come.
“Tom is a fantastic, experienced, very very good attorney,” she praises. “I would presume that he and the defense team will stay onboard for the appeal process. I don’t know why they wouldn’t, and they really are probably the best people to handle it, the whole defense team. He’s a phenomenal attorney.”
A phenomenal attorney whom she believes is already thinking, “Let’s get ready for the next phase of this litigation.”