Although the court admitted that their ruling was unusual, the judges said there had been a “process violation” in Cosby’s case because his lawyers had made an agreement with a previous state prosecutor that he would not be charged.
The former comedian had served more than two years of a three to 10-year sentence at the time of his release.
Cosby was sentenced to prison back in 2018 when he was found guilty of drugging and molesting ex-basketball player Andrea Constand. His conviction was widely seen as a landmark moment in the #MeToo movement; he was the first celebrity to be convicted and charged since women first started speaking out under the hashtag.
While dozens of other women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault, he has only been tried criminally for his actions against Constand.
Hours after he returned home, Cosby posted on Twitter, writing: “I have never changed my stance nor my story. 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.”
However, it’s worth noting that the overturning of Cosby’s sentence does not mean he is innocent of the charges he was found guilty of – just that he had previously reached an agreement with a prosecutor that should have prevented him from being charged.
In a statement, Lisa Bloom, a lawyer who represents one of Cosby’s accusers, highlighted this point, saying that “nobody should take this as a finding of innocence”.
“It’s important to understand that nowhere in the 79-page decision did the Pennsylvania Supreme Court say Bill Cosby is innocent,” she said.
“They did not say that he is exonerated. They did not say that there was insufficient evidence to convict him.
“Instead, they said that he should never have been prosecuted in the first place because a prosecutor many years ago, back in 2005, promised that he would not prosecute him. And a subsequent prosecutor then came in and decided to do it.”
While Cosby’s friends and fans have responded positively to the news, many have expressed their disappointment at the court’s ruling – especially in light of the fact that he had already been found guilty.
Gloria Allred, another lawyer who represented many of the women who spoke out against Bill Cosby, described the decision as “devastating” for his accusers.
“My heart especially goes out to those who bravely testified in both of his criminal cases,” she said in a statement.
“Despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision, this was an important fight for justice and even though the court overturned the conviction on technical grounds, it did not vindicate Bill Cosby’s conduct and should not be interpreted as a statement or a finding that he did not engage in the acts of which he has been accused.”
“Today’s decision is not only triggering for those who have experienced sexual violence and its emotional and physical consequences; it is a miscarriage of what little accountability survivors are afforded by our legal system. While many will use this moment to focus on single, bad actors, this decision to overturn Bill Cosby’s conviction reminds us that we are forced to contend with a flawed criminal-legal system that was created in support of patriarchal standards, with the goal to maintain dominance, power and control.”
It continued: “Almost four years ago, the hashtag #MeToo went viral and ignited a global movement that gave rise to a new wave of stories of sexual violence, powered by solidarity, empathy and seeking healing for generations of survivors. We created Me Too International to undergird the work of this global movement and interrupt and ultimately end sexual violence. It is within that work that we prioritize the disruption of dominant narratives that will frame the abuser as the victim, and the abused as the villain.
“Our focus has been and will remain on survivors. We stand strong in solidarity with them, centre the need for healing for all who are impacted by this news, and reject the damaging and diminishing stories that will emerge from this decision about who the survivors are and what they deserve.”
Online, there has been a vocal reaction to the ruling, with people sharing their anger and expressing support for Cosby’s accusers. Here are just a handful of the most powerful responses to the news.
Sharing a news article about the court’s decision to overturn Cosby’s conviction, actor and founding member of the #TimesUp movement Amber Tamblyn wrote: “I am furious to hear this news. I personally know women who this man drugged and raped while unconscious. Shame on the court and this decision. #TimesUp #MeToo.”
She continued: “I don’t want to hear anything about how cancel culture ruined men’s lives during the MeToo era reckoning for women and survivors. How we went too far. Today’s news that Cosby’s conviction is being overturned is proof we haven’t gone far enough. Our justice system MUST change.”
Feminist writer and author Roxane Gay responded: “It is total bullshit that Bill Cosby is being released. He raped more than 60 women but I guess that doesn’t matter? Anyway, I’m still on my abolition journey. I was fine with him staying in prison for the remainder of his life.”
She added: “And yes, the prosecutors are responsible for this. They can have some of this smoke, too.”
The UK-based charity Women’s Aid also responded, saying the court’s ruling was an example of “why women don’t report and don’t have faith in the justice system”.
The tweet continued: “Women’s Aid is here to believe and support women and their children. Today our thoughts are with the brave women who reported #BillCosby for sexual assault. #Solidarity.”
Lawyer and activist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu posted: “This is MADNESS! How does Bill Cosby go free for a reason that doesn’t DISPROVE he committed the crime!? Who’s next Harvey Weinstein?! Survivors of sexual abuse/rape/assault are being thrown under the bus for rich & powerful men. The Court is their playground. This is bullshit.
“Yes, due process matters, but releasing Bill Cosby from punishment of a crime because he relied on a prosecutor’s promise not to charge him should NEVER be the reason why survivors of his crime should be denied JUSTICE! Loopholes have always favoured the powerful – here we go again.”
Speaker, writer and professor Jessica Gottlieb wrote: “Guys: If every woman you know is having a reaction to the Bill Cosby news then maybe every woman you know has fought for ownership of her own body her entire life knowing that battles may be won but wars are lost. Just. Listen.”
And Feel Good star Mae Martin reshared a story from New York Magazine which highlights the experiences of 35 of Cosby’s accusers, adding: “Just a reminder…”
The actor Rosanna Arquette, who was one of the first people to come forward regarding a sexually abusive encounter with Harvey Weinstein, shared the following: “Bill Cosby is STILL an evil rapist. The end.
“I wonder how many people are lining up to make deals with Cosby. Too many people in Hollywood protect predator rapists and pretend to care about survivors but they really don’t.”
Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen who has accused him of historical sexual abuse, also wrote an extended statement. In the statement, she called the overturning of Cosby’s conviction a “travesty”.
“It is a perfect example of how not just our society, but our justice system, continually fails survivors of sexual assault,” Farrow wrote. “For those that question myself and other survivors about the reasons and timing of coming forward, I hope that today will serve as a teachable moment on empathy, on why it takes years – if ever – for someone to disclose their abuse.”
She continued: “Many survivors will look at the events of today and decide it’s not worth it; that even when justice is served. It can be taken away. Perpetrators see what has happened today and know their crimes will go unpunished. We need to see real, meaningful change in our system before we can ever hope to achieve justice.
“My heart goes out to the survivors today and every day.”