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Courts or lawmakers need to address troubling Cosby decision

We hope Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele is successful in his efforts to have the U.S. Supreme Court reverse the state Supreme Court’s disturbing decision to throw Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction out.

If he isn’t, we hope the state Legislature acts to clarify the powers of district attorneys in our state.

The state Supreme Court reversed Cosby’s conviction in June, due to a statement from former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor in 2005. Castor issued a news release that year that his office would not pursue criminal charges against Cosby. Cosby’s attorneys have argued that the actor would not have made incriminating statements in a civil suit against him had he not believed he would never be charged.

Kevin Steele, who took office as district attorney in 2016 after opting as an assistant district attorney to pursue criminal charges against Cosby, secured the actor’s conviction in 2018.

As the Associated Press reported in Tuesday’s Sun-Gazette, Steele says the state Supreme Court’s decision creates “a dangerous precedent by giving a press release the same weight of an immunity agreement.”

The state Supreme Court’s decision also effectively ties the hands of district attorneys, allowing the directly elected officials to be constrained by decisions of predecessors. In the case of Montgomery County, voters chose Steele over Bruce Castor in the 2015 election — why give voters an illusion that their vote mattered if the district attorney they elected is bound by the decisions of the former district attorney the voters rejected?

If the U.S. Supreme Court will not recognize this, the state Legislature should amend the laws of Pennsylvania so that the manner in which a district attorney can commit future district attorneys to one course of action or another is severely limited.

The peoples’ faith in a criminal justice system that answers to voters depends upon it.

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