If there was one celebrity scandal that dominated news headlines in 2014, it was that of Bill Cosby and the numerous allegations of sexual assault against the comedian. Cosby’s past accusations of sexual assault appeared to be all but publicly forgotten until October 16, 2014 when comedian Hannibal Buress addressed the rape charges in an extended set that would quickly go viral. Soon after, more and more women began to come forward with horrific accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of Cosby.
In many ways, Cosby has already lost in the court of public opinion, a sphere that is greatly influenced by the internet and the rapid transmission of information that is now possible in the digital age. In 2006 Cosby quietly settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who accused him of drugging and raping her in 2004. Fast forward to 2014, when no less than 30 women have come forward to accuse Cosby of similar crimes, many of them telling their stories online and to myriad media outlets. If the last few months have revealed anything, it’s that Cosby cannot so easily elude the public’s opinion this time around.
If Cosby has already lost in the court of public opinion, does this indicate how he will fare in a court of law? Many of the allegations against Cosby involve incidents that occurred decades ago, but one accusation of sexual assault made by model Chloe Goins falls within California’s statute of limitations. The Los Angeles Police Department is now looking into the claims, and will be tasked with pressing charges against Cosby, if appropriate. As of February 12, 2015 Cosby has still yet to be charged with criminal offenses, but if new victims come forward with accusations of more recent sexual assaults, the comedian could soon face trial.
In the event that Cosby is charged and goes to trial, the public can rest assured that he will not receive preferential treatment because of his celebrity status. In Spinning The Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion, attorney Kendall Coffey points out that it is in the best interest of both prosecutors and authorities to remain impartial and thorough throughout the investigation and trial. “Prosecutors and investigators look under every rock and behind every blade of grass,” Coffey explains in “Chapter 10: Pop Law.” “After all, if proceedings are brought, famous people become famous cases, and high-profile trials define the careers of prosecutors and sometimes of police and of criminalists.”
Although celebrities like Bill Cosby have access to the best legal representation money can buy, this does not preclude them from a thorough investigation and fair trial. Coffey notes that “when it comes to being investigated, no one receives more scrutiny than a celebrity,” which suggests that despite his vast resources, the allegations against Cosby will be taken very seriously, and the comedian will receive no preferential treatment during an investigation into those allegations.
Similarly, Coffey explains that “Few prosecutors want to face public outrage and press rancor for supposedly letting a celebrity off the hook.” In the case of Bill Cosby, a man who has already largely lost in the court of public opinion, that kind of public outrage would be substantial.