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Sex Crimes, Sexual Assault and Civil Lawsuits for Damages: Bill Cosby’s Legacy?

Sexual assault cases continue to get more and more media coverage. (We’ll discuss Dennis Hastert’s sentencing this morning to two years of supervised release and my correct prediction this would happen in a later post.)

Sex crimes sell lots of newspapers and get high volume web site hits, apparently. Whether or not there’s more than allegations of a crime is another issue: often, media reports and social chatter often appear to assume that the accused is guilty of sexual assault long before any evidence has been presented in a courtroom, much less a jury rendering a verdict.

 

The wedding of

 

The Dance of Criminal Sexual Assault Charges and Civil Damage Claims

And there’s a new dance that is becoming popular now, too: coupling a criminal sexual assault allegation with a civil lawsuit.

Which means that any criminal defense of sexual assault charges in Texas (and elsewhere) has to be prepared for a fight on two fronts, with very different evidence standards and burdens of proof. And if the civil action is successful, then the defendant will be liable for payment of money damages to the plaintiff and this will be independent of any criminal case outcome.

These are two entirely different systems of justice at work.

Maybe we can all thank the continuing Bill Cosby Scandal Story for this strategy trend. Here’s what’s going on in the Cosby case this week, by way of example.

1. Bill Cosby Criminal Case – Appeal Denied This Week

Bill Cosby has been charged in a sexual assault case based upon an incident that happened over 10 years ago in Cosby’s house up in Pennsylvania. Back then, his accuser Andrea Constand not only filed criminal sexual assault charges but she also filed a civil case against him, where she would receive financial compensation in the form of civil damages if she won her lawsuit.

Cosby had argued to both the Pennsylvania criminal trial court as well as its reviewing appeals court that long ago, the then-presiding district attorney granted him immunity in the sex crime case. While this wasn’t put down in a written agreement, Cosby argued it was obvious because this would be the only way that Cosby would provide testimony, and not decline to answer questions that might tend to incriminate him, in the deposition taken in that civil case. The D.A. made a deal to help the victim’s civil defamation case back then, and now that deal blocked the new D.A. prosecuting on that sex crime charge.

The fact that Bill Cosby sat down and under oath answered questions in the civil lawsuit that sought money from him based upon an incident where the plaintiff alleged he had drugged and thereafter molested her was Cosby’s big “smoking gun” piece of evidence that the immunity deal existed.

As we posted about earlier, journalists also discovered emails from that district attorney which supported Cosby’s argument. 

Nevertheless, the state appeals court ruled against Bill Cosby this week, approving the lower court’s decision on the matter. Cosby’s arguments didn’t fly and the sexual assault criminal case moves forward.

And that deposition in the civil case? The prosecution intends on using statements that Cosby made in that long ago deposition against him in the current sex crime case. Specifically, statements made by Bill Cosby that he got some Quaaludes via a doctor’s prescription with the intent to give the pills to women as a means to have sex with them.

So, Cosby’s sexual assault case moves forward and Bill Cosby remains free on his $1,000,000 bail (you may remember that February 2016 bail hearing being televised). And that reviewing court decision? Cosby has the legal right to appeal that decision, too.

2. Bill Cosby Defamation Case — Motion Denied This Week

Meanwhile, Cosby is still fighting in both criminal and civil courts. The Constand case settled a long time ago; however, six other women have filed defamation actions against Bill Cosby in a federal court up in New York, seeking civil damages against Cosby for defaming their character. None of these cases correspond to a criminal case; their allegations of sexual assault were never filed as criminal complaints before their statutory time limit expired.

Cosby had moved a federal court judge to force New York Magazine reporters to comply with Cosby’s legal request for their documentation (notes, video, audio) of interviews of the six women who have sued him in federal court for defamation. The New York Magazine story covered not only these six accusers, but 35 different women who have come forward publicly to accuse Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them.

Cosby argued to the court that he needed the journalists’ work product in order to fully investigate and defend against the plaintiffs’ defamation allegations. Specifically, that this stuff would be important because it might reveal how the women may have been influenced or otherwise changed their stories and that the court’s help was needed because New York Magazine refused to comply with Cosby’s demand based upon Freedom of the Press / First Amendment protections. Cosby’s lawyers asserted that there was no other place where this information could be obtained other than from New York Magazine but the federal judge wasn’t buying it.

Cosby’s discovery demand was denied in the defamation case. And, again, there’s a legal option to appeal this decision should Cosby choose to do so.

3. Bill Cosby Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Sexual Battery — Motion Denied This Week

And in Los Angeles, a state court has denied Cosby’s argument that a civil action against him based upon the California law causes of action (1) sexual battery and (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress was not time-barred by the statute of limitations and could proceed in California state court.

In this case, Judy Huth sued Cosby for civil damages back in December 2014 based upon allegations that Cosby got her drunk and then sexually molested her at the Playboy Mansion back in 1974 when she was an underage minor (15 years old).

Texas Trend: Pursuing Civil Matters Alongside Sex Crimes – Even if Legal Aid Money Must Be Funded

This week, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, there was a big meeting down in Austin to discuss how to help victims of sexual assault in Texas. The Texas Access to Justice Foundation took the opportunity to announce that it was now providing Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault (LASSA), designed to help sexual assault survivors who qualify for Texas legal aid.

Here, LASSA will offer all sort of free legal services to its clientele — including legal representation in civil lawsuits. From the LASSA website:

LASSA attorneys provide sexual assault survivors with legal information and advice about legal issues that may arise following a sexual assault. Callers may remain anonymous, if they wish, and still receive information about crime victim’s rights, housing, employment, immigration, education and safety planning. Callers who are ready to pursue legal remedies may be asked for more information so they can receive case-specific legal advice and possible representation.

Of course, some of this legal representation may include helping sex crime victims in things like getting out of an apartment lease or making sure they aren’t penalized by their employers on the job or with a job loss. However, from a criminal defense standpoint it’s reasonable to assume that we’re going to see sex crime allegations appearing more and more in civil courtrooms not just criminal ones here in Texas as seeking financial damages based upon a civil cause of action may be viewed as seeking crime victim’s rights.

Read the Texas Statewide Sexual Assault Prevalence Study Final Report by the Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the University of Texas here.

For more information, read our web resources and check out Michael Lowe’s Case Results. Also read his article:

 

TEXAS SEX OFFENDER DEREGISTRATION SYNOPSIS: OVERVIEW AND STEPS FOR NAME REMOVAL – Dallas Justice Blog


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