In 2005, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor learned that Andrea Constand had reported that William Cosby had sexually assaulted her in 2004 at his Cheltenham residence. Along with his top deputy prosecutor and experienced detectives, District Attorney Castor thoroughly investigated Constand's claim. In evaluating the likelihood of a successful prosecution of Cosby, the district attorney foresaw difficulties with Constand's credibility as a witness based, in part, upon her decision not to file a complaint promptly. D.A. Castor further determined that a prosecution would be frustrated because there was no corroborating forensic evidence and because testimony from other potential claimants against Cosby likely was inadmissible under governing laws of evidence. The collective weight of these considerations led D.A. Castor to conclude that, unless Cosby confessed, "there was insufficient credible and admissible evidence upon which any charge against Mr. Cosby related to the Constand incident could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Seeking "some measure of justice" for Constand, D.A. Castor decided that the Commonwealth would decline to prosecute Cosby for the incident involving Constand, thereby allowing Cosby to be forced to testify in a subsequent civil action, under penalty of perjury, without the benefit of his Fifth Amendment privilege against
D.A. Castor's successors did not feel bound by his decision, and decided to prosecute Cosby notwithstanding that prior undertaking. The fruits of Cosby's reliance upon D.A. Castor's decision—Cosby's sworn inculpatory testimony—were then used by D.A. Castor's successors against Cosby at Cosby's criminal trial. We granted allowance of appeal to determine whether D.A. Castor's decision not to prosecute Cosby in exchange for his testimony must be enforced against the Commonwealth.
I. Factual and Procedural History
In the fall of 2002, Constand, a Canadian-born former professional basketball player, was employed as the Director of Basketball Operations at Temple University. It was in this capacity that Constand first met Cosby, who had close ties to, and was heavily involved with, the university. That fall, she, along with a few other Temple administrators, showed Cosby around the university's then-recently renovated basketball facilities. Over the course of several telephone conversations concerning the renovations, Cosby and Constand developed a personal relationship.
Soon after this relationship began, Cosby invited Constand to his Cheltenham residence. When Constand arrived, Cosby greeted her, escorted her to a room, and left her alone to eat dinner and drink wine. Cosby later returned, sat next to Constand on a couch, and placed his hand on her thigh. Constand was not bothered by Cosby's advance, even though it was the first time that any physical contact had occurred between the two. Shortly thereafter, Constand left the residence.
As the personal nature of the relationship progressed, Cosby eventually met Constand's mother and sister, both of whom attended one of Cosby's comedy performances. Soon thereafter, Cosby invited Constand to return to his home for dinner. Constand arrived at the residence and again ate alone, in the same room in which she had eaten during her first visit. When Constand finished eating, Cosby approached and sat next to her on the couch. At first, the two discussed Constand's desire to work as a sports broadcaster, but Cosby soon attempted physical contact. Cosby reached over to Constand and attempted to unbutton her pants. When she leaned forward to prevent him from doing so, Cosby immediately ceased his efforts. Constand believed that her actions had communicated to Cosby clearly that she did not want to engage in a physical relationship with him. She expected that no further incidents like this one would occur.
Toward the end of 2003, Cosby invited Constand to meet at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Constand accepted the invitation and, once at the casino, dined with Cosby and a casino employee, Tom Cantone. After dinner, Cantone walked Constand to her hotel room. Cosby called Constand and asked her to meet him for
Eventually, Constand decided to leave her job at Temple and return to Canada to work as a masseuse. In January 2004, Constand went to Cosby's Cheltenham residence to discuss that decision. As on her previous visits to Cosby's home, Constand entered through the kitchen door. On this occasion, however, Constand noticed that Cosby already had placed a glass of water and a glass of wine on the kitchen table. While she sat at the table with Cosby and discussed her future, Constand initially chose not to sample the wine because she had not yet eaten and did not want to consume alcohol on an empty stomach. At Cosby's insistence, however, Constand began to drink.
At one point, Constand rose to use the restroom. When she returned, Cosby was standing next to the kitchen table with three blue pills in his hand. He reached out and offered the pills to Constand, telling her that the pills were her "friends," and that they would "help take the edge off."
Constand soon began experiencing double vision. Her mouth became dry and she slurred her speech. Although Constand could not immediately identify the source of her sudden difficulties, she knew that something was wrong. Cosby tried to reassure her. He told her that she had to relax. When Constand attempted to stand up, she needed Cosby's assistance to steady herself. Cosby guided her to a sofa in another room so that she could lie down. Constand felt weak and was unable to talk. She started slipping out of consciousness.
Moments later, Constand came to suddenly, finding Cosby sitting behind her on the sofa. She remained unable to move or speak. With Constand physically incapable of stopping Cosby or of telling him to stop, Cosby began fondling her breasts and penetrating her vagina with his fingers. Cosby then took Constand's hand and used it to masturbate himself. At some point, Constand lost consciousness.
When Constand eventually awakened on Cosby's couch in the early morning hours, she discovered that her pants were unzipped and that her bra was raised and out of place. Constand got up, adjusted her clothing, and prepared to leave the residence. She found Cosby standing in a doorway, wearing a robe and slippers. Cosby told Constand that there was a muffin and a cup of tea on a table for her. She took a sip of the tea, broke off a piece of the muffin, and left.
After the January 2004 incident, Constand and Cosby continued to talk over the telephone about issues involving Temple University athletics. In March of that year, Cosby invited Constand to dinner at a Philadelphia restaurant. She accepted the invitation in hopes of confronting Cosby
A few months later, Constand moved back to her native Canada. She spoke with Cosby over the telephone, mostly about an upcoming Toronto performance that he had scheduled. Cosby invited Constand and her family to the show, which especially excited Constand's mother, who had attended two of Cosby's other performances and who brought a gift for Cosby to the show.
Constand kept the January 2004 incident to herself for nearly a year, until one night in January 2005, when she bolted awake crying and decided to call her mother for advice. Initially, Constand's mother could not talk because she was en route to work, but she returned Constand's call immediately upon arrival. During the call, Constand told her mother that Cosby had sexually assaulted her approximately one year earlier. Together, the two decided that the best course of action was to contact the Durham Regional Police Department in Ontario, Canada, and to attempt to retain legal counsel in the United States.
That night, Constand filed a police report with the Durham Regional Police Department. Shortly thereafter, Constand called Cosby, but he did not answer his phone. When Cosby returned the call the next day, both Constand and her mother were on the line. Constand brought up the January 2004 incident and asked Cosby to identify the three blue pills that he had given to her that night. Cosby apologized vaguely. As to the pills, Cosby feigned ignorance, promising Constand that he would check the label on the prescription bottle from which they came and relay that information to her.
Frustrated, Constand left the call, but her mother remained on the line and continued to speak with Cosby. Cosby assured Constand's mother that he did not have sexual intercourse with Constand while she was incapacitated. Neither Constand nor her mother informed Cosby that Constand had filed a police report accusing him of sexual assault.
Constand later telephoned Cosby again and, unbeknownst to Cosby, recorded the conversation with a tape recorder that she had purchased. During this conversation, Cosby offered to continue assisting Constand if she still desired to work in sports broadcasting. He also indicated that he would pay for Constand to continue her education. Cosby asked Constand to meet him in person to discuss these matters further, and told her that he would have someone contact her to set up the meeting. As with the previous call, Cosby again refused to identify the pills that he had provided to Constand on the night of the alleged assault.
Within days of filing the police report, Constand received two telephone messages from people associated with Cosby. The first message was from one of Cosby's assistants, calling on Cosby's behalf to invite Constand and her mother to Cosby's upcoming performance in Miami, Florida. Constand called the representative back and recorded the call. The representative asked for certain details about Constand and her mother so that he could book flights and hotel rooms for them. Constand declined the offer and did not provide the
In the meantime, the Durham Regional Police Department referred Constand's police report to the Philadelphia Police Department, which, in turn, referred it to the Cheltenham Police Department in Montgomery County, where Cosby's residence was located. The case was assigned to Sergeant Richard Schaeffer, who worked in tandem with the Montgomery County Detective Bureau and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office to investigate Constand's allegation.
Sergeant Schaeffer first spoke with Constand by telephone on January 19, 2005. According to Sergeant Schaeffer, Constand seemed nervous throughout this brief initial interview. Thereafter, Constand traveled from Canada to Cheltenham to meet with the investigating team in person. Because this was Constand's first time meeting with law enforcement personnel, she felt nervous and uncomfortable while discussing with them the intimate nature of her allegations.
On January 24, 2005, then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor issued a press release informing the public that Cosby was under investigation for sexual assault. Sergeant Schaeffer and other law enforcement officials interviewed Cosby in New York City, utilizing a written question and answer format. Cosby was accompanied by his attorneys, Walter M. Phillips, Esquire, and John P. Schmitt, Esquire. Cosby reported that Constand had come to his home at least three times during their social and romantic relationship. Cosby claimed that, on the night in question, Constand came to his house complaining of an inability to sleep. Cosby stated that he told Constand that, when he travels, he takes Benadryl, an antihistamine, which immediately makes him drowsy. According to Cosby, he then handed Constand one-and-a-half Benadryl pills, but did not tell her what they were.
Cosby recalled that, once Constand ingested the pills, they kissed and touched each other on the couch. Cosby admitted that he touched Constand's breasts and vagina, but he insisted that she neither resisted nor told him to stop. Additionally, Cosby told the investigators that he never removed his clothing and that Constand did not touch any part of his body under his clothes. Cosby denied having sexual intercourse with Constand and disclaimed any intent to do so that night. In fact, Cosby claimed that the two never had sexual intercourse on any occasion. Cosby admitted that he told Constand and her mother that he would write down the name of the pills and provide them that information, but he acknowledged that he never actually did so. After the interview—and without being asked to do so—Cosby provided the police with pills, which laboratory testing confirmed to be Benadryl.
In February 2005, then-District Attorney Castor reviewed Constand's interviews and Cosby's written answers in order to assess the viability of a prosecution of Cosby. The fact that Constand had failed to promptly file a complaint against Cosby troubled the district attorney. In D.A. Castor's view, such a delay diminished the reliability of any recollections and undermined the investigators' efforts to collect forensic evidence. Moreover, D.A. Castor identified a number of inconsistences in Constand's various statements to investigators. After Cosby provided his written answers, police officers searched his Cheltenham residence and found no evidence
Additionally, according to D.A. Castor, Constand's behavior in the year since the alleged assault complicated any effort to secure a conviction against Cosby. As evidenced by the number of telephone calls that she recorded, Constand continued to talk with Cosby on the phone, and she also continued to meet with him in person after the incident. D.A. Castor found these recurring interactions between a complainant and an alleged perpetrator to be atypical. D.A. Castor also reasoned that the recordings likely were illegal and included discussions that could be interpreted as attempts by Constand and her mother to get Cosby to pay Constand so that she would not contact the authorities. The totality of these circumstances ultimately led D.A. Castor to conclude that "there was insufficient credible and admissible evidence upon which any charge against  Cosby related to the Constand incident could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt." N.T., 2/2/2016, at 60.
Having determined that a criminal trial likely could not be won, D.A. Castor contemplated an alternative course of action that could place Constand on a path to some form of justice. He decided that a civil lawsuit for money damages was her best option. To aid Constand in that pursuit, "as the sovereign," the district attorney "decided that [his office] would not prosecute  Cosby," believing that his decision ultimately "would then set off the chain of events that [he] thought as a Minister of Justice would gain some justice for Andrea Constand." Id. at 63-64. By removing the threat of a criminal prosecution, D.A. Castor reasoned, Cosby would no longer be able in a civil lawsuit to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination for fear that his statements could later be used against him by the Commonwealth. Mr. Castor would later testify that this was his intent:
Id. at 64-66. Recalling his thought process at the time, the former district attorney further emphasized that it was "absolutely" his intent to remove "for all time" the possibility of prosecution, because "the ability to take the Fifth Amendment is also for all time removed." Id. at 67.
Consistent with his discussion with Attorney Phillips, D.A. Castor issued another press release, this time informing the public that he had decided not to prosecute Cosby. The press release stated, in full:
Press Release, 2/17/2005; N.T., 2/2/2016, Exh. D-4.
D.A. Castor did not communicate to Constand or her counsel his decision to permanently forego prosecuting Cosby. In fact, Constand did not learn of the decision until a reporter appeared at one of her civil attorney's offices later that evening. With the resolution of her allegations removed from the criminal courts, Constand turned to the civil realm. On March 8, 2005, less than one month after the district attorney's press release, Constand filed a lawsuit against Cosby in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
During discovery in that lawsuit, Cosby sat for four depositions. Cosby's attorney for the civil proceedings, John Schmitt, had learned about the non-prosecution decision from Cosby's criminal counsel, Walter Phillips. From the perspective of Cosby's attorneys, the district attorney's decision legally deprived Cosby of any right or ability to invoke the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, not once during the four depositions did Cosby invoke the Fifth Amendment or even mention it. During one deposition, Attorney Schmitt advised Cosby not to answer certain questions pertaining to Constand, but he did not specifically invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Throughout the depositions, Cosby identified the pills that he provided to Constand in 2004 as Benadryl. Cosby claimed to know the effects of Benadryl well, as he frequently took two of the pills to help himself fall asleep. Thus, when Constand arrived at his house on the night in question stressed, tense, and having difficulty sleeping, Cosby decided to give her three half-pills of Benadryl to help her relax. According to Cosby, Constand took the pills without asking what they were, and he did not volunteer that information to her.
Cosby explained that, after fifteen or twenty minutes, he suggested that they move from the kitchen to the living room, where Constand met him after going to the restroom. Cosby testified that Constand sat next to him on the couch and they began kissing and touching each other. According to Cosby, they laid together on the couch while he touched her breasts and inserted his fingers into her vagina. Afterwards, Cosby told her to try to get some sleep, and then he went upstairs to his bedroom. He came back downstairs two hours later to find Constand awake. He then escorted her to the kitchen where they had a muffin and tea.
Cosby was questioned about his telephone conversations with Constand's mother. Cosby admitted that he told Constand and her mother that he would write down the name of the pills that he gave her and then send it to them, but that he failed to do so. He further explained that he would not admit what the pills were over the phone with Constand and her mother because he did not want Constand's mother to think that he was a perverted old man who had drugged her daughter. He also noted that he had suspected that the phone calls were being recorded. Although he did not believe that Constand was making these allegations in an attempt to get money from him, Cosby explained that, after Constand and her mother confronted him, he offered to pay for her education and asked his attorney to commence discussions regarding setting up a trust for that purpose. Cosby admitted that it would be in his best interests if the public believed that Constand had consented to the encounter, and that he believed he would suffer financial consequences if the public believed that he had drugged and assaulted her.
Notably, during his depositions, Cosby confessed that, in the past, he had provided Quaaludes
Eventually, Constand settled her civil suit with Cosby for $3.38 million.
By that point, then-D.A. Castor had moved on from the district attorney's office and was serving as a Montgomery County Commissioner. He was succeeded as district attorney by his former first assistant, Risa Vetri Ferman, Esquire.
On September 23, 2015, upon learning that D.A. Ferman had reopened the case, former D.A. Castor sent her an email, to which he attached his February 17, 2005 press release, stating the following:
N.T., 2/2/2016, Exh. D-5.
Replying by letter, D.A. Ferman asserted that, despite the public press release, this was the first she had learned about a binding understanding between the Commonwealth and Cosby. She requested a copy of any written agreement not to prosecute Cosby. D.A. Castor replied with the following email:
Id., Exh. D-7.
Despite her predecessor's concerns, D.A. Ferman and the investigators pressed forward, reopening the criminal case against Cosby. Members of the prosecutorial team traveled to Canada and met with Constand, asking her to cooperate with their efforts to prosecute Cosby, even though she had specifically agreed not to do so as part of the civil settlement. Investigators also began to identify, locate, and interview other women that had claimed to have been assaulted by Cosby.
Nearly a decade after D.A. Castor's public decision not to prosecute Cosby, the Commonwealth charged Cosby with three counts of aggravated indecent assault
From February 2-3, 2016, the trial court conducted hearings on Cosby's habeas petition, which it ultimately denied. Later, in its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion, the trial court explained that "the only conclusion that was apparent" from the record "was that no agreement or promise not to prosecute ever existed, only the exercise of prosecutorial discretion." Tr. Ct. Op. ("T.C.O."), 5/14/2019, at 62. In support of this conclusion, the trial court provided a lengthy summary of what it found to be the pertinent facts developed at the habeas corpus hearing. Because our analysis in this case focuses upon the trial court's interpretation of those testimonies, we reproduce that court's synopsis here:
He indicated in his email that he learned Mr. Phillips had died on the date of his email. The email also suggested that the
T.C.O. at 47-61 (cleaned up).
Notably, when District Attorney Castor decided not to prosecute Cosby, he "absolutely" intended to remove "for all time" the possibility of prosecution, because "the ability to take the Fifth Amendment is also for all time removed." N.T., 2/2/2016, at 67. The trial court sought clarification from Mr. Castor about his statement in his second email to D.A. Ferman that he still believed that a prosecution was permissible as long as Cosby's depositions were not used in such proceedings. Former D.A. Castor explained to the court that he meant that a prosecution may be available only if other victims were discovered, with charges related only to those victims, and without the use of Cosby's depositions in the Constand matter. Specifically, former D.A. Castor stated that what he was "trying to convey to Mrs. Ferman [was that his] binding of the Commonwealth not to prosecute Cosby was not for any crime in Montgomery County for all time. It was only for the sexual assault crime in the Constand case." N.T., 2/2/2016, at 224-25. He continued, "[s]o if they had evidence that some of these other women had been sexually assaulted at Cosby's home in Cheltenham, then I thought they could go ahead with the prosecution of that other case with some other victim, so long as they realized they could not use the Constand deposition and anything derived therefrom." Id.
As noted, the trial court denied the motion, finding that then-D.A. Castor never,
The trial court also found that "Mr. Castor's testimony about what he did and how he did it was equivocal at best." Id. at 63. The court deemed the former district attorney's characterization of his decision-making and intent to be inconsistent, inasmuch as he testified at times that he intended transactional immunity, while asserting at other times that he intended use and derivative-use immunity. The trial court specifically credited Attorney Troiani's statements that she never requested that Cosby be provided with immunity and that she did not specifically agree to any such offer.
As further support for the view that no agreement was reached, nor any promise extended, the trial court noted that, in his initial statement to police, which was voluntarily provided and not under oath, Cosby did not invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Instead, Cosby presented a narrative
The trial court further held that, even if there was a purported grant of immunity, Cosby could not insist upon its enforcement based upon the contractual theory of promissory estoppel, because "any reliance on a press release as a grant of immunity was unreasonable." Id. Specifically, the court noted that Cosby was represented at all times by a competent team of attorneys, but none of them "obtained [D.A.] Castor's promise in writing or memorialized it in any way." Id. at 65-66. The failure to demand written documentation was evidence that no promise not to prosecute was ever extended. For these reasons, the trial court found no legal basis to estop the Commonwealth from prosecuting Cosby.
Cosby filed a notice of appeal and a petition for review with the Superior Court. In response to the filings, the Superior Court temporarily stayed the proceedings below. However, upon a motion by the Commonwealth, the Superior Court quashed the appeal and lifted the stay. This Court likewise rejected Cosby's pre-trial efforts to appeal the adverse rulings, denying his petition for allowance of appeal, his petition for review, and his emergency petition for a stay of the proceedings.
On May 24, 2016, following a preliminary hearing, all of Cosby's charges were held for trial. Thereafter, Cosby filed a number of pretrial motions, including a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, a motion to dismiss the charges on due process grounds, and, most pertinent here, a "Motion to Suppress the Contents of his Deposition Testimony and Any Evidence Derived therefrom on the Basis that the District Attorney's Promise not to Prosecute Him Induced Him to Waive his Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination." After holding a hearing on the suppression motion, at which no new testimony was taken, the trial court again concluded that former District Attorney Castor's testimony was equivocal, credited the testimony of Constand's attorneys, and found that no promise or agreement not to prosecute existed. Having so determined, the court discerned "no [c]onstitutional barrier to the use of [Cosby's] civil deposition testimony" against him at trial, and it denied the suppression motion.
On September 6, 2016, the Commonwealth filed a "Motion to Introduce Evidence of Other Bad Acts of the Defendant," which Cosby opposed by written response. The Commonwealth sought to introduce evidence and testimony from other women who alleged that Cosby had sexually assaulted them, instances that could not be prosecuted due to the lapse of applicable statutes of limitations. On February 24, 2017, the trial court granted the Commonwealth's motion, but permitted
On December 30, 2016, Cosby filed a motion seeking a change in venue or venire. The trial court kept the case in Montgomery County, but agreed that the jury should be selected from a different county. Thus, Cosby's jury was selected from residents of Allegheny County, and trial commenced. On June 17, 2017, after seven days of deliberation, the jury announced that it could not reach a unanimous verdict. The trial court dismissed the jury and declared a mistrial.
Ahead of the second trial, the Commonwealth filed a motion seeking to introduce the testimony of a number of additional women who offered to testify about Cosby's prior acts of sexual abuse. Generally, the women averred that, in the 1980s, each had an encounter with Cosby that involved either alcohol, drugs, or both, that each became intoxicated or incapacitated after consuming those substances, and that Cosby engaged in some type of unwanted sexual contact with each of them while they were unable to resist. The dates of the conduct that formed the basis of these allegations ranged from 1982 to 1989, approximately fifteen to twenty-two years before the incident involving Constand. Again, Cosby opposed the motion. Following oral argument, and despite there being no change in circumstances other than the first jury's inability to reach a unanimous verdict, the trial court granted the Commonwealth's motion in part, increasing the number of prior bad acts witnesses allowed at trial from one to five. The selection of the five witnesses from a pool of at least nineteen women was left entirely to the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth selected, and introduced testimony at Cosby's second trial from, the following women:
The trial court rejected Cosby's arguments that the introduction of testimonies from the five prior bad acts witnesses violated his due process rights, and that the incidents were too remote in time and too dissimilar to have probative value, let alone probative value sufficient to overcome the unduly prejudicial impact of such evidence. The court noted that prior bad acts evidence generally cannot be used to establish a criminal propensity or to prove that the defendant acted in conformity with the past acts, but that such evidence can be used to show motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident, so long as the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect.
The court further determined that the prior bad acts evidence was admissible to demonstrate that Cosby's actions were not the result of mistake or accident. The court relied in large part upon then-Chief
The trial court recognized that the alleged assaults upon the prior bad acts witnesses were remote in time, but it explained that remoteness "is but one factor that the court should consider." Id. at 97. The court reasoned that the distance in time between the prior acts and the incident involving Constand was "inversely proportional to the similarity of the other crimes or acts." Id. (citing Tyson, 119 A.3d at 359). Stated more simply, the "more similar the crimes, the less significant the length of time that has passed." Id. at 98 (citing Commonwealth v. Luktisch, 451 Pa.Super. 500, 680 A.2d 877 (1996)). The court noted that, while there was a significant temporal gap between the prior incidents and Constand's case, the alleged assaults involving the prior bad acts witnesses occurred relatively close in time to each other. Thus, "[w]hen taken together," the court explained, "the sequential nature of the acts coupled with their nearly identical similarities renders the lapse of time unimportant." Id. at 109.
To be unfairly prejudicial, the trial court emphasized, the proffered evidence must be "unfair," and must have a "tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis or to divert the jury's attention away from its duty of weighing the evidence impartially." Id. at 100 (quoting Pa.R.E. 403 cmt). Evidence "will not be prohibited merely because it is harmful to the defendant," and a court "is not required to sanitize the trial to eliminate all unpleasant facts." Id. at 100-01 (quoting Commonwealth v. Conte, 198 A.3d 1169, 1180-81 (Pa. Super. 2018)). For the trial court, the aforementioned similarities between Constand's claim and that of the other alleged victims weighed in favor of admissibility, particularly because the court believed that the Commonwealth had a "substantial need" for the evidence. Id. at 109. "Where the parties agreed that the digital penetration occurred, the evidence of other acts was necessary to rebut [Cosby's] characterization of the assault as a consensual encounter." Id. "Furthermore," the court opined, "Ms. Constand did not report the assault until approximately one year later, further supporting the Commonwealth's need for the evidence." Id. at 110. With regard to
Finally, the trial court rejected Cosby's challenge to the admissibility of the contents of his deposition testimony to the extent that it concerned his use of Quaaludes in decades past. The court opined that Cosby's "own words about his use and knowledge of drugs with a depressant effect was relevant to show his intent and motive in giving a depressant to  Constand." Id. at 115. Because the evidence demonstrated Cosby's knowledge of the effects of drugs such as Quaaludes, the court reasoned, Cosby "either knew [Constand] was unconscious, or recklessly disregarded the risk that she could be." Id. As with the Rule 404(b) witnesses, the court found that any prejudicial effect of this evidence was mitigated by the court's cautionary instructions. Id. Accordingly, the court trial opined that all of the Rule 404(b) evidence was admissible.
At the conclusion of a second jury trial, Cosby was convicted on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Following the denial of a number of post-trial motions, the trial court deemed Cosby to be a "sexually violent predator" pursuant to the then-applicable version of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act ("SORNA"), 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 9799.10-9799.41. The trial court then sentenced Cosby to three to ten years in prison. Cosby was denied bail pending an appeal. He filed post-sentence motions seeking a new trial and a modification of his sentence, which were denied.
Cosby timely filed a notice of appeal, prompting the trial court to order him to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Cosby complied. On May 14, 2019, the trial court responded to Cosby's concise statement with its opinion, issued pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a).
A unanimous panel of the Superior Court affirmed the judgment of sentence in all respects. Commonwealth v. Cosby, 224 A.3d 372 (Pa. Super. 2019). The Superior Court began by assessing Cosby's challenge to the admissibility of the prior bad acts evidence under Rule 404(b). The panel observed that a reviewing court must evaluate the admission of evidence pursuant to the abuse-of-discretion standard. Id. at 397. Addressing the trial court's rationale regarding the admissibility of prior bad acts evidence demonstrating a common plan, scheme, or design, the panel noted that the exception aims to establish a perpetrator's identity based upon "his or her commission of extraordinarily similar criminal acts on other occasions. The exception is demanding in it[s] constraints, requiring nearly unique factual circumstances in the commission of a crime, so as to effectively eliminate the possibility that it could have been committed by anyone other than the accused." Id. at 398 (citing Commonwealth v. Miller, 541 Pa. 531, 664 A.2d 1310, 1318 (1995)). Although the common plan, scheme, or design rationale typically is used to establish the identity of a perpetrator of a particular crime, the Superior Court pointed out that courts previously have also used the exception "to counter [an] anticipated defense of consent." Id. (quoting Tyson, 119 A.3d at 361).
Before trial, the Commonwealth sought to introduce evidence of a rape for which Tyson had been convicted in Delaware twelve years earlier. Id. The Delaware offense involved a victim of the same race and of a similar age as the victim in Tyson. Id. The Delaware victim similarly was casually acquainted with Tyson, invited Tyson into her home, was in a compromised state, and awoke to find Tyson engaged in vaginal intercourse with her. Id. at 357. The trial court declined to admit the Rule 404(b) evidence against Tyson. Id. at 356. On interlocutory appeal, the Superior Court reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the proffered evidence was admissible. Id. at 363. The court reasoned that the "relevant details and surrounding circumstances of each incident further reveal criminal conduct that is sufficiently distinctive to establish [that Tyson] engaged in a common plan or scheme." Id. at 360.
With Tyson in mind, the Superior Court turned its attention to the case sub judice. Based upon the similarities between Constand's allegations and those of Cosby's other accusers identified by the trial court, the Superior Court agreed that the accounts of the five prior bad acts witnesses established a "predictable pattern" that reflected Cosby's "unique sexual assault playbook." Cosby, 224 A.3d at 402. Accordingly, the panel concluded that the witnesses' testimony was admissible to show Cosby's common plan, scheme, or design.
The Superior Court further agreed with the trial court that the prior bad acts evidence was admissible to demonstrate the absence of mistake on Cosby's part as to Constand's consent. The court concluded that Tyson's rationale was applicable to the instant case. The court rejected Cosby's efforts to distinguish Constand's allegations from those dating to the 1980s. Cosby emphasized the fact that the relationship between Cosby and Constand lasted longer than his relationship with any of the prior bad acts witnesses, that Constand was a guest at Cosby's home on multiple occasions, that Cosby and Constand had exchanged gifts, that Cosby had made prior sexual advances toward Constand, that the nature of the sexual contact differed among the alleged victims, and that the alleged prior assaults occurred in hotel rooms or at the home of a third party, while the incident with Constand
As to the temporal gap between the prior bad acts and the incident involving Constand, the Superior Court acknowledged that, even if the evidence were otherwise admissible under Rule 404(b), it "will be rendered inadmissible if it is too remote." Id. at 405 (quoting Commonwealth v. Shively, 492 Pa. 411, 424 A.2d 1257, 1259 (1981)). The panel agreed with the trial court's statement that the significance of the age of a prior bad act is "inversely proportional" to the similarity between the prior bad act and the facts underlying the charged offense. Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Aikens, 990 A.2d 1181, 1185 (Pa. Super. 2010)). Although the panel recognized the significant lag in time between the events in question, it relied upon the similarities as found by the trial court to conclude that "the at-issue time gap is relatively inconsequential." Id. "Moreover," the panel opined, "because [Cosby's] identity in this case was not in dispute (as he claimed he only engaged in consensual sexual contact with [Constand]), there was no risk of misidentification" through the admission of the prior bad acts evidence, "despite the gap in time." Id.
Additionally, the Superior Court rejected Cosby's contention that the trial court had failed to weigh adequately the prejudicial impact of the prior bad acts evidence. The panel highlighted the fact that the trial court provided the jury with cautionary instructions on the use of the evidence, as well as that court's decision to limit the number of prior bad acts witnesses to five. These steps, in the Superior Court's view, were sufficient to mitigate the prejudicial impact of the evidence. Id.
The Superior Court dealt separately with Cosby's Rule 404(b) challenge to the use of his deposition testimony regarding his provision of Quaaludes to women in the past. The court rejected Cosby's "attempts to draw a hard distinction between Quaaludes and Benadryl," and noted that "the jury was free to disbelieve [Cosby's] assertion that he only provided [Constand] with Benadryl." Id. at 420. The court credited the Commonwealth's argument that Cosby's familiarity with Quaaludes was suggestive of his mens rea, inasmuch as it was "highly probative of `the circumstances known to him for purposes of determining whether he acted with the requisite mens rea for the offense of aggravated indecent assault—recklessness." Id. (quoting Pa. R.E. 404(b)(2)). Moreover, Cosby's "knowledge of the use of central nervous system depressants, coupled with his likely past use of the same with the [prior bad acts] witnesses, were essential to resolving the otherwise he-said-she-said nature of [Constand's] allegations." Id. The Superior Court added that the trial court did not err in determining that the probative value of this evidence outweighed its potential for unfair prejudice, inasmuch as, "in a vacuum, Cosby's use and distribution of a then-legal `party drug' nearly half a century ago did not appear highly prejudicial," and "only becomes significantly prejudicial, and fairly so, when, in the context of other evidence, it establishes Cosby's knowledge of and familiarity with central nervous system depressants for purposes of demonstrating that he was at least reckless" in
Turning to Cosby's claims relating to the enforceability of the non-prosecution or immunity decision rendered by then-District Attorney Castor, the Superior Court viewed this as a challenge to the denial of a motion to quash a criminal complaint, which would be evaluated under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Id. at 410. Like the trial court, the panel found no "authority suggesting that a district attorney `may unilaterally confer transactional immunity through a declaration as the sovereign.'" Id. at 411 (quoting T.C.O. at 62). Therefore, the court opined, "it is clear on the face of the record that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that there was no enforceable non-prosecution agreement in this case." Id. The court added: "Even assuming Mr. Castor promised not to prosecute [Cosby], only a court order can convey such immunity. Such promises exist only as exercises of prosecutorial discretion, and may be revoked at any time." Id. The court discussed the immunity statute and observed that it provides that "a district attorney may request an immunity order from any judge of a designated court...." Id. (quoting 42 Pa. C.S. § 5947(b)). Because no such order existed here, the Superior Court concluded that it could "ascertain no abuse of discretion in the trial court's determination that [Cosby] was not immune from prosecution, because Mr. Castor failed to seek or obtain an immunity order pursuant to Section 5947." Id. at 412. "Only a court order conveying such immunity is legally binding in this Commonwealth." Id.
The Superior Court further rejected Cosby's invocation of promissory estoppel asserting reliance upon D.A. Castor's assurances, as demonstrated by Cosby's cooperation with Constand's civil suit and his decision not to invoke the Fifth Amendment during his deposition testimony. The panel opined that Cosby failed to cite sufficient authority to establish that a prosecution may be barred under a promissory estoppel theory. The panel further agreed with the trial court that, in any event, "it was not reasonable for [Cosby] to rely on Mr. Castor's promise, even if the trial court had found credible the testimony provided by Mr. Castor and [Cosby's] civil attorney," Attorney Schmitt. Id. The panel stated: "We cannot deem reasonable [Cosby's] reliance on such a promise when he was represented by counsel, especially when immunity can only be granted by a court order, and where no court order granting him immunity existed." Id. at 413.
The Superior Court further opined that there was "virtually no evidence in the record that [Cosby] actually declined to assert his Fifth Amendment rights at the civil deposition based on Mr. Castor's purported promise not to prosecute." Id. Although the court noted that Attorney Schmitt was the only witness who could testify that Cosby indeed relied upon Castor's purported promise during his deposition (Attorney Schmitt did so testify), it emphasized the Commonwealth's argument that Attorney Schmitt allowed Cosby to give a statement to the police during the initial investigation, that Cosby did not incriminate himself at that point, that Attorney Schmitt further negotiated with the National Enquirer on the details of its published interview with Cosby, and that Attorney Schmitt negotiated a term of the settlement agreement with Constand that required her assurance that she would not cooperate with any future criminal investigation. Thus, the Commonwealth argued,
For the same reasons, the Superior Court rejected Cosby's claim that the trial court erred in failing to suppress his deposition testimony due to the immunity that he purportedly should have enjoyed. The court opined that Cosby's suppression argument was "contingent upon his claim that Mr. Castor unilaterally immunized [Cosby] from criminal prosecution, which we have already rejected." Id. at 414. The panel distinguished all of the precedents upon which Cosby relied, including this Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Stipetich, 539 Pa. 428, 652 A.2d 1294 (1995).
In Stipetich, Pittsburgh police personnel had promised George and Heidi Stipetich that, if they answered questions about the source of the drugs found in their home, no charges would be filed against them. After the Stipetiches fulfilled their part of the agreement, prosecutors charged them anyway. Id. at 1294-95. The trial court granted the Stipetiches' motion to dismiss the charges on the basis of the police promise. Id. at 1295. This Court ultimately held that the Pittsburgh police department had no authority to bind the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office to a non-prosecution agreement. Id. However, this Court opined:
Id. at 1296. Although the Superior Court dismissed this passage from Stipetich as dicta, it found the situation distinguishable in any event inasmuch as former D.A. Castor testified that there was no "agreement" or "quid pro quo" with Cosby, and, therefore, any reliance that Cosby placed upon the district attorney's promise was unreasonable. Cosby, 224 A.3d at 416-17.
The Superior Court concluded that it was bound by the trial court's factual findings and by its credibility determinations. The trial court had "determined that Mr. Castor's testimony and, by implication, Attorney Schmitt's testimony (which was premised upon information he indirectly received from Mr. Castor) were not credible." Id. at 417. The panel added that the trial court had "found that the weight of the evidence supported its finding that no agreement or grant of immunity was made, and that [Cosby] did not reasonably rely on any overtures by Mr. Castor to that effect when he sat for his civil deposition." Id. Thus, the Superior Court discerned no error in the trial court's decision to allow the use of Cosby's deposition testimony against him at trial.
On June 23, 2020, this Court granted Cosby's petition for allowance of appeal, limited to the following two issues:
Commonwealth v. Cosby, 236 A.3d 1045 (Pa. 2020) (per curiam).
We begin with Cosby's second listed issue, because, if he is correct that the Commonwealth was precluded from prosecuting him, then the question of whether the prior bad act testimony satisfied Rule 404(b) will become moot.
On February 17, 2005, then-District Attorney Castor announced to the public, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that he would not prosecute Cosby for any offense related to the 2004 sexual abuse that Constand alleged. Constand's potential credibility issues, and the absence of direct or corroborative proof by which to substantiate her claim, led the district attorney to believe that the case presented "insufficient, credible, and admissible evidence upon which any charge could be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt." Press Release, 2/17/2005 (cleaned up). Given his "conclu[sion] that a conviction under the circumstances of this case would be unattainable," D.A. Castor "decline[d] to authorize the filing of criminal charges in connection with this matter." Id. In light of the non-prosecution decision, Cosby no longer was exposed to criminal liability relating to the Constand allegations and thus could no longer invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination in that regard. With no legal mechanism available to avoid testifying in Constand's civil suit, Cosby sat for depositions and, therein, made a
D.A. Castor's declination decision stood fast throughout his tenure in office. When he moved on, however, his successor decided to revive the investigation and to prosecute Cosby. Ruling upon Cosby's challenge to this belated prosecution, the trial court concluded that the former district attorney's promise did not constitute a binding, enforceable agreement. To determine whether Cosby permanently was shielded from prosecution by D.A. Castor's 2005 declination decision, we first must ascertain the legal relationship between D.A. Castor and Cosby. We begin with the trial court's findings.
It is hornbook law that reviewing courts are not fact-finding bodies. O'Rourke v. Commonwealth, 566 Pa. 161, 778 A.2d 1194, 1199 (2001). Appellate courts are limited to determining "whether there is evidence in the record to justify the trial court's findings." Id. at 1199 n.6. "If so, this Court is bound by them." Id. However, while "we accord deference to a trial court with regard to factual findings, our review of legal conclusions is de novo." Id. at n.7 (citation omitted). Indeed, it is a long-standing appellate principle that, "[w]ith respect to  inferences and deductions from facts and  conclusions of law,... appellate courts have the power to draw their own inferences and make their own deductions and conclusions." In re Pruner's Est., 400 Pa. 629, 162 A.2d 626, 631 (1960) (citations omitted).
Here, the trial court presided over the habeas corpus hearing, viewing and hearing the witnesses and their testimonies first-hand. From that vantage point, the trial court determined that, as a matter of fact, D.A. Castor had not extended a formal promise to Cosby never to prosecute him, let alone consummated a formal non-prosecution agreement with Cosby. The factual basis for the court's findings was two-fold. First, the court characterized the interaction between the district attorney and Cosby as a failed attempt to reach a statutorily prescribed transactional immunity agreement. Second, the court concluded that the former district attorney's testimony regarding the legal relationship between him and Cosby was inconsistent and "equivocal at best." T.C.O. at 63. Both findings are supported adequately by the record.
Pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5947, when a prosecutor wishes to formalize an immunity agreement, he or she "may request an immunity order from any judge of a designated court." Id. § 5947(b). Presented with such a request, the petitioned court "shall issue such an order," id., upon which a witness "may not refuse to testify based on his privilege against self-incrimination." Id. § 5947(c). At the habeas hearing, former District Attorney Castor testified that he intended to provide Cosby with transactional immunity. He explained that this conferral was predicated upon the state's common-law authority as a sovereign rather than any statutory provisions or protocols. T.C.O. at 57 (citing N.T., 2/2/2016, at 232, 234, 236). The record does not contradict his testimony. There is no evidence, nor any real contention, that the parties even contemplated a grant of immunity under Section 5947. The trial court's finding that the interaction between D.A. Castor and Cosby was not a formal attempt to bestow transactional immunity upon Cosby is supported by the record.
The trial court's description of former D.A. Castor's testimony as inconsistent and equivocal finds support in the record as well. At times, the former district attorney was emphatic that he intended his decision not to prosecute Cosby to
Further indicative of his intent to forever preclude prosecution of Cosby for the 2004 incident, former D.A. Castor testified that the signed press release was meant to serve as proof for a future civil judge that Cosby would not be prosecuted, thus stripping Cosby of his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Mr. Castor emphasized that his decision was "absolute that [Cosby] never would be prosecuted." T.C.O. at 52. The former district attorney stressed that his intent was to "absolutely" remove "for all time" the prospect of a prosecution, because, in his view, only a steadfast guarantee would permanently strip Cosby of his right to invoke the Fifth Amendment. N.T., 2/2/2016, at 67. Mr. Castor also expounded upon the purpose of his emails to D.A. Ferman, which he claimed were an attempt to inform her that, while he bound the Commonwealth with regard to the 2004 incident, she was free to prosecute Cosby for any other crimes that she might uncover.
Although former D.A. Castor stated that he intended permanently to bar prosecution of Cosby, he also testified that he sought to confer some form of transactional immunity. In his second email to D.A. Ferman, former district attorney Castor suggested that his intent in "signing off" on the press release was to assure Cosby that nothing that he said in a civil deposition could or would be used against him in a criminal prosecution. N.T., 2/2/2016, Exh. D-7. In the same email, he simultaneously expressed his belief that "a prosecution is not precluded." Id. As such, the evidence suggests that D.A. Castor was motivated by conflicting aims when he decided not to prosecute Cosby. On one hand, the record demonstrates that D.A. Castor endeavored to forever preclude the Commonwealth from prosecuting Cosby if Cosby testified in the civil case. On the other hand, the record indicates that he sought to foreclose only the use in a subsequent criminal case of any testimony that Cosby gave in a civil suit.
The trial court was left to resolve these seeming inconsistencies. The court concluded that Cosby and D.A. Castor did not enter into a formal immunity agreement. Because the record supports the trial court's findings in this regard, we are bound by those conclusions. Pertinently, we are bound by the trial court's determination that D.A. Castor's actions amounted only to a unilateral exercise of prosecutorial discretion. This characterization is consistent with the former district attorney's insistence at the habeas hearing that what occurred between him and Cosby was not an agreement, a contract, or any kind of quid pro quo exchange.
We are not, however, bound by the lower courts' legal determinations that derive from those factual findings. Thus, the question becomes whether, and under what circumstances, a prosecutor's exercise of his or her charging discretion binds future prosecutors' exercise of the same discretion. This is a question of law.
Prosecutors are more than mere participants in our criminal justice system. As we explained in Commonwealth v. Clancy, 648 Pa. 179, 192 A.3d 44 (2018), prosecutors inhabit three distinct and equally critical roles: they are officers of the court, advocates for victims, and administrators of justice. Id. at 52. As the Commonwealth's representatives, prosecutors are duty-bound to pursue "equal and impartial justice," Appeal of Nicely, 130 Pa. 261, 18 A. 737, 738 (1889), and "to serve the public interest." Clancy, 192 A.3d at 52. Their obligation is "not merely to convict," but rather to "seek justice within the bounds of the law." Commonwealth v. Starks, 479 Pa. 51, 387 A.2d 829, 831 (1978).
Clancy, 192 A.3d at 53 (cleaned up).
As prosecutors are vested with such "tremendous" discretion and authority, our law has long recognized the special weight that must be accorded to their assurances. For instance, in the context of statements made during guilty plea negotiations, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that, as a matter of constitutional due process and as compelled by the principle of fundamental fairness, a defendant generally is entitled to the benefit of assurances made by the prosecutor. See Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257,
This Court has followed suit with regard to prosecutorial inducements made during the guilty plea process, insisting that such inducements comport with the due process guarantee of fundamental fairness. In Commonwealth v. Zuber, 466 Pa. 453, 353 A.2d 441 (1976), during plea negotiations in a murder case, the prosecutor agreed to recommend to the sentencing court that Rickey Zuber receive a sentence of seven to fourteen years in prison if he pleaded guilty. Id. at 442-43. The prosecutor also agreed to consent to a request that Zuber's sentence be served concurrently with "back time" that Zuber was required to serve for a parole violation. Id. at 443. The prosecutor stated the terms of the agreement on the record, and the trial court accepted the terms of Zuber's guilty plea and sentenced Zuber accordingly. However, because the law requires that "back time" sentences and new sentences be served consecutively, Zuber was legally obligated to begin serving his sentences one after the other, instead of simultaneously. Id.
Zuber sought post-conviction relief, arguing that the plea as stated in open court had to be enforced, statutory law notwithstanding. On appeal to this Court, Zuber argued that he was "induced by the specific promise made by the Commonwealth," which ultimately turned out to be a "false and empty one." Id. We noted that plea bargaining is looked upon favorably and that "the integrity of our judicial process demands that certain safeguards be stringently adhered to so that the resultant plea as entered by a defendant and accepted by the trial court will always be one made voluntarily and knowingly, with a full understanding of the consequences to follow." Id.
Id. at 444 (cleaned up).
We then turned to the remedy to which Zuber was entitled, which was problematic because enforcement of the plea necessarily meant compelling an outcome that was prohibited by statute. Nonetheless, because, inter alia, Zuber had "reasonably relied upon the advice of his counsel and the expression of that specific promise stated in open court by the assistant district attorney," id. at 445, he was entitled
Interactions between a prosecutor and a criminal defendant, including circumstances where the latter seeks enforcement of some promise or assurance made by the former, are not immune from the dictates of due process and fundamental fairness. The contours and attendant obligations of such interactions also can involve basic precepts of contract law, which inform the due process inquiry. The applicability of contract law to aspects of the criminal law has been recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States, see Puckett v. United States, 556 U.S. 129, 137, 129 S.Ct. 1423, 173 L.Ed.2d 266 (2009), by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, see McKeever v. Warden SCI-Graterford, 486 F.3d 81, 86 (3d Cir. 2007), and by this Court. See Commonwealth v. Martinez, 637 Pa. 208, 147 A.3d 517, 531 (2016). In order to succeed on a claim of promissory estoppel, the aggrieved party must prove that: (1) the promisor acted in a manner that he or she should have reasonably expected to induce the other party into taking (or not taking) certain action; (2) the aggrieved party actually took such action; and (3) an injustice would result if the assurance that induced the action was not enforced. See Crouse v. Cyclops Indus., 560 Pa. 394, 745 A.2d 606, 610 (2000).
In Martinez, we reexamined the enforceability of terms of plea agreements made by prosecutors pertaining to the applicability of sexual offender registration obligations. There, three defendants entered into plea bargains with the Commonwealth, each of which was formulated in a way that either limited or eliminated the defendants' obligations under the then-applicable sexual offender registration statute. Martinez, 147 A.3d at 521-22. However, after some time, our General Assembly enacted the first version of SORNA, which fundamentally altered the registration and reporting obligations of sexual offenders, including those of the three offenders in Martinez. Each defendant was notified by the Pennsylvania State Police that he or she was subject to the intervening statute and thus had to comply with the new obligations under SORNA, even though those obligations contradicted the terms of each of their plea deals. Id. at 522-523.
Each of the three offenders filed an action seeking the enforcement of the terms of his guilty plea, notwithstanding the fact that those terms conflicted with the newly-enacted statute. Id. at 523-24. Citing Santobello, Zuber, Commonwealth v. Hainesworth, 82 A.3d 444 (Pa. Super. 2013) (en banc), and other decisions, this Court held that the offenders were entitled to specific performance of the terms of the plea bargains to which the prosecutors had agreed. Martinez, 147 A.3d at 531-32. We held that, once a bargained term is enveloped within a plea agreement, a defendant "is entitled to the benefit of his bargain through specific performance of terms of the plea agreement." Id. at 533.
The applicability of contract law principles to criminal negotiations is not limited to the plea bargaining process. See United States v. Carrillo, 709 F.2d 35 (9th Cir. 1983) (holding that fundamental fairness requires a prosecutor to uphold his or her end of a non-prosecution agreement). For instance, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has explained that, like plea agreements, non-prosecution agreements are binding contracts that must be interpreted according to general principles of contract law, guided by "special due process concerns."
Under some circumstances, assurances given by prosecutors during plea negotiations, even unconsummated ones, may be enforceable on equitable grounds rather than on contract law principles. Government of Virgin Islands v. Scotland, 614 F.2d 360 (3d Cir. 1980), is instructive. In that case, the parties had reached a tentative, preliminary plea agreement. But before the defendant could formally enter the plea, the prosecutor attempted to add another term to the deal. Id. at 361-62. The defendant rejected the new term and sought specific performance of the original, unconsummated agreement. Id. The district court denied his request. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, because the agreement was not formalized and accepted by the court, the defendant was not entitled to specific performance under a contract law theory. Id. at 362. The appellate court noted that, absent detrimental reliance upon the prosecutor's offer, a defendant's due process rights were sufficiently safeguarded by his right to a jury trial. Id. at 365. The court cautioned, however, that, by contrast, when a "defendant detrimentally relies on the government's promise, the resulting harm from this induced reliance implicates due process guarantees." Id.
Considered together, these authorities obligate courts to hold prosecutors to their word, to enforce promises, to ensure that defendants' decisions are made with a full understanding of the circumstances, and to prevent fraudulent inducements of waivers of one or more constitutional rights. Prosecutors can be bound by their assurances or decisions under principles of contract law or by application of the fundamental fairness considerations that inform and undergird the due process of law. The law is clear that, based upon their unique role in the criminal justice system, prosecutors generally are bound by their assurances, particularly when defendants rely to their detriment upon those guarantees.
There is no doubt that promises made during plea negotiations or as part of fully consummated plea agreements differ in kind from the unilateral discretion exercised when a prosecutor declines to pursue criminal charges against a defendant. As suggested by the trial court in the present case, such an exercise of discretion is not per se enforceable in the same way that a bargained-for exchange is under contract law. The prosecutor enjoys "tremendous" discretion to wield "the power to decide whether to initiate formal criminal proceedings, to select those criminal charges which will be filed against the accused, to negotiate plea bargains, to withdraw charges where appropriate, and, ultimately, to prosecute or dismiss charges at trial." Clancy, 192 A.3d at 53. Unless patently abused, this vast discretion is exercised generally beyond the reach of judicial interference. See Stipetich, 652 A.2d at 1295 (noting that "the ultimate discretion to file criminal charges lies in the district attorney").
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution mandate that all interactions between the government and the individual are conducted in accordance with the protections of due process. See Commonwealth v. Sims, 591 Pa. 506, 919 A.2d 931, 941 n.6 (2007) (noting that federal and state due process principles generally are understood as operating co-extensively). We have explained that review of a due process claim "entails an assessment as to whether the challenged proceeding or conduct offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental and that defines the community's sense of fair play and decency." Commonwealth v. Kratsas, 564 Pa. 36, 764 A.2d 20, 27 (2001) (cleaned up). Due process is a universal concept, permeating all aspects of the criminal justice system. Like other state actors, prosecutors must act within the boundaries set by our foundational charters. Thus, we discern no cause or reason, let alone any compelling one, to waive the prosecution's duty to comply with due process simply because the act at issue is an exercise of discretion, e.g., whether or not to charge a particular suspect with a crime.
That is not to say that each and every exercise of prosecutorial discretion with regard to charging decisions invites a due process challenge. Charging decisions inhere within the vast discretion afforded to prosecutors and are generally subject to review only for arbitrary abuses. A prosecutor can choose to prosecute, or not. A prosecutor can select the charges to pursue, and omit from a complaint or bill of information those charges that he or she does not believe are warranted or viable on the facts of the case. A prosecutor can also condition his or her decision not to prosecute a defendant. For instance, a prosecutor can decide initially not to prosecute, subject to possible receipt or discovery of new inculpatory evidence. Or, a prosecutor can choose not to prosecute the defendant at the present time, but may inform the defendant that the decision is not final and that the prosecutor may change his or her mind within the period prescribed by the applicable statute of limitations. Similarly, there may be barriers to a prosecution, such as the unavailability of a witness or evidence, which subsequently may be removed, thus enabling a prosecution to proceed. Generally, no due process violation arises from these species of discretionary decision-making, and a defendant is without recourse to seek the enforcement of any assurances under such circumstances.
An entirely different situation arises when the decision not to prosecute is unconditional, is presented as absolute and final, or is announced in such a way that it induces the defendant to act in reliance thereupon. When a non-prosecution decision is conveyed in such a way, and when a defendant, having no indication to the contrary, detrimentally relies upon that decision, due process may warrant preclusion of the prosecution. Numerous state and federal courts have found that a defendant's detrimental reliance upon the government's assurances during the plea bargaining phase both implicates his due
That is what happened in this case. There has been considerable debate over the legal significance of District Attorney Castor's publicly announced decision not to prosecute Cosby in 2005. Before the trial court, the Superior Court, and now this Court, the parties have vigorously disputed whether D.A. Castor and Cosby reached a binding agreement, whether D.A. Castor extended an enforceable promise, or whether any act of legal significance occurred at all. There is testimony in the record that could support any of these conclusions. The trial court—the entity charged with sorting through those facts—found that D.A. Castor made no agreement or overt promise.
Much of that debate, and the attendant factual conclusions, were based upon the apparent absence of a formal agreement and former D.A. Castor's various efforts to defend and explain his actions ten years after the fact. As a reviewing court, we accept the trial court's conclusion that the district attorney's decision was merely an exercise of his charging discretion.
In January and February of 2005, then-D.A. Castor led an investigation into Constand's allegations. When that investigation concluded, Mr. Castor decided that the case was saddled with deficiencies such that proving Cosby's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt was unlikely, if not impossible. For those reasons, D.A. Castor decided not to prosecute Cosby. To announce his decision, the district attorney elected to issue a signed press release—an uncommon tactic in the typical case, but not necessarily so in cases of high public profile or interest.
In that press statement, D.A. Castor explained the extent and nature of the investigation and the legal rules and principles that he considered. He then announced that he was declining to prosecute Cosby. The decision was not conditioned in any way, shape, or form. D.A. Castor did not say that he would re-evaluate this decision at a future date, that the investigation would continue, or that his decision was subject to being overturned by any future district attorney.
There is nothing from a reasonable observer's perspective to suggest that the decision was anything but permanent. The trial court found contrary indicia in the latter portion of the press release, where Mr. Castor "cautioned all parties to this matter that [District Attorney Castor] will reconsider this decision should the need arise," Press Release, 2/17/2005; N.T., 2/2/2016, Exh. D-4. The trial court's narrow interpretation of "this decision" is possible only when this sentence is read in isolation.
Id. (emphasis added).
When we review the statement in its full context, it is clear that, when D.A. Castor announced that he "will reconsider this decision should the need arise," the decision to which he was referring was his decision not to comment publicly "on the details of his [charging] decision for fear that his opinions and analysis might be given undue weight by jurors in any contemplated civil action." The entire paragraph addresses the district attorney's concern that he might inadvertently taint a potential civil jury pool by making public remarks about the credibility of the likely parties in that highly anticipated case. Then-D.A. Castor expressly stated that he could change his mind on that decision only. Nothing in this paragraph pertains to his decision not to prosecute Cosby. The trial court's conclusion is belied by a plain reading of the entire passage.
Our inquiry does not end there. D.A. Castor's press release, without more, does not necessarily create a due process entitlement. Rather, the due process implications arise because Cosby detrimentally relied upon the Commonwealth's decision, which was the district attorney's ultimate intent in issuing the press release. There was no evidence of record indicating that D.A. Castor intended anything other than to induce Cosby's reliance. Indeed, the most patent and obvious evidence of Cosby's reliance was his counseled decision to testify in four depositions in Constand's civil case without ever invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.
The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is applicable to the States via incorporation through the Fourteenth Amendment, commands that "[n]o person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." U.S. CONST. amend. V. The right to refuse to incriminate oneself is an "essential mainstay" of our constitutional system of criminal justice. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 7, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964). The privilege constitutes an essential restraint upon the power of the government, and stands as an indispensable rampart between that government
We recently discussed the centrality of the privilege against compulsory self-incrimination in the American concept of ordered liberty in Commonwealth v. Taylor, 230 A.3d 1050 (Pa. 2020). There, we noted that certain rights, such as those enshrined in the Fifth Amendment, are among those privileges "whose exercise a State may not condition by the exaction of a price." Id. at 1064 (quoting Garrity v. New Jersey, 385 U.S. 493, 500, 87 S.Ct. 616, 17 L.Ed.2d 562 (1967)). To ensure that these fundamental freedoms are "scrupulously observed," we emphasized that "it is the duty of courts to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon," id. at 1063-64 (quoting Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 635, 6 S.Ct. 524, 29 L.Ed. 746 (1886)), and that "the Fifth Amendment is to be "broad[ly] constru[ed] in favor of the right which it was intended to secure.'" Id. at 1064 (quoting Counselman v. Hitchcock, 142 U.S. 547, 562, 12 S.Ct. 195, 35 L.Ed. 1110 (1892), Boyd, 116 U.S. at 635, 6 S.Ct. 524, and Quinn v. United States, 349 U.S. 155, 162, 75 S.Ct. 668, 99 L.Ed. 964 (1955)). We stressed that "[t]he value of constitutional privileges is largely destroyed if persons can be penalized for relying on them." Id. at 1064 (quoting Grunewald v. United States, 353 U.S. 391, 425, 77 S.Ct. 963, 1 L.Ed.2d 931 (1957)) (Black, J., concurring).
The right against compulsory self-incrimination accompanies a person wherever he goes, no matter the legal proceeding in which he participates, unless and until "the potential exposure to criminal punishment no longer exists." Taylor, 230 A.3d at 1065. It is indisputable that, in Constand's civil case, Cosby was entitled to invoke the Fifth Amendment. No court could have forced Cosby to testify in a deposition or at a trial so long as the potential for criminal charges remained. Here, however, when called for deposition, Cosby no longer faced criminal charges. When compelled to testify, Cosby no longer had a right to invoke his right to remain silent.
Cosby was forced to sit for four depositions. That he did not—and could not—choose to remain silent is apparent from the record. When Cosby attempted to decline to answer certain questions about Constand, Constand's attorneys obtained a ruling from the civil trial judge forcing Cosby to answer. Most significantly, Cosby, having maintained his innocence in all matters and having been advised by a number of attorneys, provided critical evidence of his recurring history of supplying women with central nervous system depressants before engaging in (allegedly unwanted) sexual activity with them—the very assertion that undergirded Constand's criminal complaint.
The trial court questioned whether Cosby believed that he no longer had a Fifth Amendment right to invoke during the
The trial court's conjecture was legally erroneous. The trial court surmised that, although Cosby repeatedly told an exculpatory, consent-based version of the January 2004 incident, he naturally would have been willing to offer inculpatory information about himself as well. Assuming that a person validly possesses the right to refrain from giving evidence against himself, he may invoke that right "at any time." See Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 473, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966); Commonwealth v. Dulaney, 449 Pa. 45, 295 A.2d 328, 330 (1972). The fact that Cosby did not assert any right to remain silent to the police or while sitting for the depositions is of no moment. Had his right to remain silent not been removed by D.A. Castor's decision, Cosby would have been at liberty to invoke that right at will. That Cosby did not do so at other junctures is not proof that he held the right but elected not to invoke it, as the trial court evidently reasoned. To assume an implicit waiver of the right violates a court's "duty ... to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen," and to construe the existence of such rights broadly. Taylor, 230 A.3d at 1064 (quoting Boyd, supra).
These legal commandments compel only one conclusion. Cosby did not invoke the Fifth Amendment before he incriminated himself because he was operating under the reasonable belief that D.A. Castor's decision not to prosecute him meant that "the potential exposure to criminal punishment no longer exist[ed]." Id. at 1065. Cosby could not invoke that which he no longer possessed, given the Commonwealth's assurances that he faced no risk of prosecution. Not only did D.A. Castor's unconditional decision not to prosecute Cosby strip Cosby of a fundamental constitutional right, but, because he was forced to testify, Cosby provided Constand's civil attorneys with evidence of Cosby's past use of drugs to facilitate his sexual exploits. Undoubtedly, this information hindered Cosby's ability to defend against the civil action, and led to a settlement for a significant amount of money. We are left with no doubt that Cosby relied to his detriment upon the district attorney's decision not to prosecute him. The question then becomes whether that reliance was reasonable. Unreasonable reliance warrants no legal remedy.
We already have determined that Cosby in fact relied upon D.A. Castor's decision. We now conclude that Cosby's reliance was reasonable, and that it also was reasonable for D.A. Castor to expect Cosby to so rely. The record establishes without contradiction that depriving Cosby of his Fifth Amendment right was D.A. Castor's intended result.
We cannot deem it unreasonable to rely upon the advice of one's attorneys. The constitutional guarantee of the effective assistance of counsel is premised, in part, upon the complexities that inhere in our criminal justice system. A criminal defendant confronts a number of important decisions that may result in severe consequences to that defendant if, and when, they are made without a full understanding of the intricacies and nuances of the ever-changing criminal law. As Justice Black explained in Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938):
Id. at 462-63, 58 S.Ct. 1019 (cleaned up). Not only was Cosby's reliance upon the conclusions and advice of his attorneys reasonable, it was consistent with a core purpose of the right to counsel.
To hold otherwise would recast our understanding of reasonableness into something unrecognizable and unsustainable under our law. If Cosby's reliance was unreasonable, as found by the lower courts and as suggested by the Commonwealth, then reasonableness would require a defendant in a similar position to disbelieve an elected district attorney's public statement and to discount the experience and wisdom of his own counsel. This notion of reasonableness would be manifestly unjust in this context. Defendants, judges, and the public would be forced to assume fraud or deceit by the prosecutor. The attorney-client relationship would be predicated upon mistrust, and the defendant would be forced to navigate the criminal justice process on his own, despite the substantial deficit in the critical knowledge that is necessary in order to do so, as so compellingly explained by Justice Black.
Such an understanding of reasonableness is untenable. Instead of facilitating the right to counsel, it undermines that right. We reject this interpretation. We find nothing unreasonable about Cosby's reliance upon his attorneys and upon D.A. Castor's public announcement of the Commonwealth's charging decision.
The trial court alternatively suggested that Cosby's belief that he would never be prosecuted, thus stripping him of his Fifth Amendment rights, based upon little more than a press release, was unreasonable because neither Cosby nor his attorneys demanded that the terms of any offers or assurances by D.A. Castor be reduced to writing. This reasoning is unpersuasive. Neither the trial court, nor the Commonwealth for that matter, cites any legal principle that requires a prosecutor's assurances to be memorialized in writing in order to warrant reasonable reliance. We decline to construe as unreasonable the failure to do that which the law does not require.
It also has been suggested that the level of the defendant's sophistication is a relevant factor in assessing whether his reliance upon a prosecutor's decision was reasonable. Such a consideration is both impractical and unfair. There is no equitable method of assessing a particular defendant's degree of sophistication. Any attempt would be an arbitrary line-drawing exercise that unjustifiably would deem some sophisticated and some not. Nor are there any objective criteria that could be used to make that assessment accurately. Would sophistication for such purposes be established based upon one's ability to hire one or more attorneys? By the level of education attained by the defendant? Or perhaps by the number of times the defendant has participated in the criminal justice system? There is no measure that could justify assessing reasonableness based upon the so-called sophistication of the defendant.
The contours of the right to counsel do not vary based upon the characteristics of the individual seeking to invoke it. Our Constitutions safeguard fundamental rights equally for all. The right to counsel applies with equal force to the
In accordance with the advice of his attorneys, Cosby relied upon D.A. Castor's public announcement that he would not be prosecuted. His reliance was reasonable, and it resulted in the deprivation of a fundamental constitutional right when he was compelled to furnish self-incriminating testimony. Cosby reasonably relied upon the Commonwealth's decision for approximately ten years. When he announced his declination decision on behalf of the Commonwealth, District Attorney Castor knew that Cosby would be forced to testify based upon the Commonwealth's assurances. Knowing that he induced Cosby's reliance, and that his decision not to prosecute was designed to do just that, D.A. Castor made no attempt in 2005 or in any of the ten years that followed to remedy any misperception or to stop Cosby from openly and detrimentally relying upon that decision. In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor D.A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby's due process rights. No other conclusion comports with the principles of due process and fundamental fairness to which all aspects of our criminal justice system must adhere.
Having identified a due process violation here, we must ascertain the remedy to which Cosby is entitled. We note at the outset that specific performance does not automatically apply in these circumstances. As a general rule, specific performance is reserved for remedying an injured party to a fully consummated agreement, such as an agreed-upon and executed plea bargain. Commonwealth v. Spence, 534 Pa. 233, 627 A.2d 1176, 1184 (1993). "`Specific performance' is a traditional contract remedy that is available when monetary damages are inadequate." Martinez, 147 A.3d at 532 (citing BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 1425 (8th ed. 2004) (defining "specific performance" as, inter alia, "a court-ordered remedy that requires precise fulfillment of a legal or contractual obligation when monetary damages are inappropriate or inadequate")).
This does not mean that specific performance is unavailable entirely. It only means that the remedy does not naturally flow to someone under these circumstances as an automatic consequence of contract law. Specific performance is awarded only when equity and fundamental fairness command it. See Scotland, at 614 F.2d at 365 (stating that, if "the defendant detrimentally relies on the government's promise, the resulting harm from this induced reliance implicates due process guarantees"); see also Commonwealth v. Mebane, 58 A.3d 1243 (Pa. Super. 2012) (upholding trial court ruling that fundamental fairness required enforcement of the prosecution's plea offer that was later withdrawn, where the defendant detrimentally relied upon the offer); Commonwealth v. McSorley, 335 Pa.Super. 522, 485 A.2d 15, 20 (1984), aff'd, 509 Pa. 621, 506 A.2d 895 (1986) (per curiam) (enforcing an incomplete agreement based upon detrimental reliance). As noted earlier, the principle of fundamental fairness, as embodied
In our view, specific performance of D.A. Castor's decision, in the form of barring Cosby's prosecution for the incident involving Constand, is the only remedy that comports with society's reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system. It bears repeating that D.A. Castor intended his charging decision to induce the waiver of Cosby's fundamental constitutional right, which is why the prosecutor rendered his decision in a very public manner. Cosby reasonably relied to his detriment upon that decade-old decision when he declined to attempt to avail himself of his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination and when he provided Constand's civil attorneys with inculpatory statements. Under these circumstances, neither our principles of justice, nor society's expectations, nor our sense of fair play and decency, can tolerate anything short of compelling the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office to stand by the decision of its former elected head.
In Stipetich, we briefly contemplated a remedy for the breach of a defective non-prosecution agreement. In that case, Stipetich agreed with the police that, if he revealed his source for obtaining drugs, no charges would be filed against him or his wife. Stipetich, 652 A.2d at 1294-95. Even though Stipetich fulfilled his end of the bargain, charges still were filed against him and his wife. Id. at 1295. The Stipetiches sought enforcement of the non-prosecution agreement with the police. This Court found that the non-prosecution agreement was invalid, because the police did not have the authority to make it. Only a prosecutor holds that power. Id.
We recognized that what befell the Stipetiches may have been "fundamentally unfair," particularly if their discussions with the police produced additional evidence of criminality, including possibly self-incriminating statements. Id. at 1296. In dicta, we suggested that the remedy might be to suppress the evidence or statements that were obtained after the police purported to bind the Commonwealth in a non-prosecution agreement. Id.
This remedy is insufficient here, for a number of reasons. First, as noted, the remedy statement was dicta, and is not the law in Pennsylvania. Second, the circumstances that led to the suggestion of that remedy are markedly different than those that occurred in the present case. In Stipetich, the agreement was formulated with arresting officers, who lacked the authority to make the promise not to prosecute. Here, conversely, the non-prosecution decision was made by the elected District Attorney of Montgomery County, whose public announcement of that decision was fully within his authority, and was objectively worthy of reasonable reliance. Finally, a one-size-fits-all remedy does not comport with the individualized due process inquiry that must be undertaken. As outlined above, a court must ascertain, contemplating the individual circumstances of each case, the remedy that accords with the due process of law. In some instances, suppression of evidence may be an adequate remedy; in others, only specific enforcement will suffice.
Here, only full enforcement of the decision not to prosecute can satisfy the fundamental demands of due process. See Rowe, 676 F.2d at 528 (explaining that, when a promise induces a defendant to waive his Fifth Amendment rights by testifying or
The circumstances before us here are rare, if not entirely unique. While this controversy shares some features of earlier cases that contemplate the constitutional role of prosecutors, that import contract principles into the criminal law, and that address the binding nature of prosecutorial promises in plea agreements and in other situations—as well as breaches of those promises—there are no precedents directly on point that would make the remedy question an easy one. As the concurring and dissenting opinion ("CDO") observes, the circumstances of this case present a "constellation of ... unusual conditions."
In our respectful judgment, the CDO's proposed remedy, a third criminal trial of Cosby—albeit one without his deposition testimony—falls short of the relief necessary to remedy the constitutional violation. Specific performance is rarely warranted, and should be imposed only when fairness and equity demand it. As the CDO notes, such a remedy generally should be afforded only under "drastic circumstances where the defendant detrimentally relies on an inducement and cannot be returned to the status quo ante."
The CDO would limit our assessment of the harm suffered by Cosby to the Commonwealth's use of the deposition testimony at his two trials. But the harm is far greater than that, and it began long before even the first trial. It must be remembered that D.A. Castor's decision not to prosecute Cosby, and to announce that decision orally and in a written press release, was not designed to facilitate the use of testimony against Cosby in a future criminal trial. Instead, D.A. Castor induced Cosby's forfeiture of his Fifth Amendment rights as a mechanism and a lever to aid Constand's civil action and to improve the chances that she would receive at least a monetary benefit for the abuse that she suffered, given that D.A. Castor had determined that Constand would not, and could not, get relief in a criminal trial. Through his deliberate efforts, D.A. Castor effectively forced Cosby to participate against himself in a civil case in a way that Cosby would not have been required to do had he retained his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. To say the least, this development significantly weakened Cosby's legal position. Cosby was compelled to give inculpatory
Under these circumstances, where our equitable objective in remedying a due process violation is to restore an aggrieved party to the status he held prior to that violation, exclusion of the deposition testimony from a third criminal trial, and nothing more, falls short of what our law demands. Though this appeal emanates from Cosby's criminal convictions, we cannot ignore the true breadth of the due process violation. The deprivation includes the fact that D.A. Castor's actions handicapped Cosby in the derivative civil suit. Nor can we ignore the fact that weakening Cosby's position in that civil case was precisely why D.A. Castor proceeded as he did. Suppression of evidence in a third criminal trial can never restore Cosby to the position he held before he forfeited his Fifth Amendment rights. The consequences of D.A. Castor's actions include the civil matter, and no exclusion of deposition testimony can restore Cosby's injuries in that regard.
It was not only the deposition testimony that harmed Cosby. As a practical matter, the moment that Cosby was charged criminally, he was harmed: all that he had forfeited earlier, and the consequences of that forfeiture in the civil case, were for naught. This was, as the CDO itself characterizes it, an unconstitutional "coercive bait-and-switch."
The impact of the due process violation here is vast. The remedy must match that impact. Starting with D.A. Castor's inducement, Cosby gave up a fundamental constitutional right, was compelled to participate in a civil case after losing that right, testified against his own interests, weakened his position there and ultimately settled the case for a large sum of money, was tried twice in criminal court, was convicted, and has served several years in prison. All of this started with D.A. Castor's compulsion of Cosby's reliance upon a public proclamation that Cosby would not be prosecuted. The CDO's remedy for all of this would include subjecting Cosby to a third criminal trial. That is no remedy at all. Rather, it is an approach that would place Cosby nowhere near where he was before the due process violation took root.
There is only one remedy that can completely restore Cosby to the status quo ante. He must be discharged, and any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred. We do not dispute that this remedy is both severe and rare. But it is warranted here, indeed compelled. The CDO would shun this remedy because (at least in part) it might thwart the "public interest in having the guilty
We do not question the discretion that is vested in prosecutors "over whether charges should be brought in any given case." Stipetich, 652 A.2d at 1295. We will not undermine a prosecutor's "general and widely recognized power to conduct criminal litigation and prosecutions on behalf of the Commonwealth, and to decide whether and when to prosecute, and whether and when to continue or discontinue a case." Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. DiPasquale, 431 Pa. 536, 246 A.2d 430, 432 (1968)). The decision to charge, or not to charge, a defendant can be conditioned, modified, or revoked at the discretion of the prosecutor.
However, the discretion vested in our Commonwealth's prosecutors, however vast, does not mean that its exercise is free of the constraints of due process. When an unconditional charging decision is made publicly and with the intent to induce action and reliance by the defendant, and when the defendant does so to his detriment (and in some instances upon the advice of counsel), denying the defendant the benefit of that decision is an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was foregone for more than a decade. No mere changing of the guard strips that circumstance of its inequity. See, e.g., State v. Myers, 204 W.Va. 449, 513 S.E.2d 676, 682 n.1 (1998) (explaining that "any change in the duly elected prosecutor does not affect the standard of responsibility for the office"). A contrary result would be patently untenable. It would violate long-cherished principles of fundamental fairness. It would be antithetical to, and corrosive of, the integrity and functionality of the criminal justice system that we strive to maintain.
For these reasons, Cosby's convictions and judgment of sentence are vacated, and he is discharged.
Justices Todd, Donohue and Mundy join the opinion.
Justice Dougherty files a concurring and dissenting opinion in which Chief Justice Baer joins.
Justice Saylor files a dissenting opinion.
JUSTICE DOUGHERTY, concurring and dissenting.
By publicly announcing that appellant William Cosby would not be charged with any crimes related to Andrea Constand — a decision apparently made, in part, to force Cosby to testify in Constand's future anticipated civil suit — former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor intended to, and in fact did, force Cosby to give up his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Then, years later, Castor's successor used the damaging evidence Cosby turned over in the civil case to convict him of the same criminal offenses he had previously been induced to believe were off the table. I am constrained to agree with the majority that due process does not permit the government to engage in this type of coercive bait-and-switch. However, while I share in
I begin by addressing an underlying issue that the majority says little about but which I believe looms large: Castor's apparent belief that, as an elected district attorney, he could forever preclude his successors from prosecuting Cosby. See, e.g., N.T. Habeas Corpus Hearing, 2/2/2016 at 64-66 ("I made the decision as the sovereign that Mr. Cosby would not be prosecuted no matter what."); id. at 66-67 (emphasizing it was "absolutely" his intent to remove "for all time" the possibility of prosecution); id. at Exh. D-5 (alleging in an email to his successor that he "intentionally and specifically bound the Commonwealth that there would be no state prosecution"). The majority does not directly address whether it considers Castor's belief to be an accurate statement of the law. Cf. Majority Opinion at 1130 ("the question becomes whether, and under what circumstances, a prosecutor's exercise of his or her charging discretion binds future prosecutors' exercise of the same discretion"). Nevertheless, to the extent the majority's opinion could arguably be interpreted as signaling even a tacit approval of Castor's view, I respectfully distance myself from it.
District attorneys in this Commonwealth are constitutionally elected officers. See PA. CONST. art. IX, § 4. However, the Constitution "is altogether silent on the question of the district attorney's powers and duties." Commonwealth v. Schab, 477 Pa. 55, 383 A.2d 819, 830 (1978) (Pomeroy, J.). Instead these duties and powers are set by statute. See 16 P.S. § 1402(a) ("The district attorney shall sign all bills of indictment and conduct in court all criminal and other prosecutions, in the name of the Commonwealth..., and perform all the duties which, prior to May 3, 1850, were performed by deputy attorneys general."). Significantly, none of this authority or our case law interpreting it remotely purports to grant to district attorneys the power to impose on their successors — in perpetuity, no less — the kind of general non-prosecution agreement that Castor sought to convey to Cosby. It's not difficult to imagine why: If district attorneys had the power to dole out irrevocable get-out-of-jail-free cards at will and without any judicial oversight, it would invite a host of abuses.
Beyond this point, I am largely in accord with the majority's thoughtful analysis, and I join its conclusions that Cosby's non-prosecution claim implicates due process and that contract law precepts generally — but more specifically, principles of promissory estoppel — are the most natural fit for analyzing it. I also agree that Cosby has proven his entitlement to relief, because: "Castor reasonably expected Cosby to act in reliance upon his charging decision"; "Cosby relied to his detriment upon [Castor]'s decision not to prosecute him"; and "Cosby's reliance was reasonable[.]" Majority Opinion at 1140-42. With respect to reasonableness, I find particularly apt the majority's explanation that "[i]f Cosby's reliance was unreasonable..., then reasonableness would require a defendant in a similar position to disbelieve an elected district attorney's public statement and to discount the experience and wisdom of his own counsel." Id. at 1142, The constellation of these unusual conditions requires the conclusion that Cosby's reliance — particularly in the absence of any prior authority from this Court addressing whether it is lawful for a district attorney to unilaterally extend a binding, permanent non-prosecution agreement — was reasonable under the circumstances.
Where I begin to disagree with the majority is in the final stretch of its analysis. Although the majority presents a compelling discussion of the promissory estoppel and due process principles at play in this matter, see id. at 1131-43, it ultimately concludes that "the subsequent decision by successor [district attorneys] to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby's due process rights." Id. at 1143. I cannot agree. It is not the mere fact that another district attorney sought to prosecute Cosby after Castor made an unauthorized (and invalid) declaration there would be no such prosecution that resulted in the due process violation. Rather, it was the prosecution's use, at the subsequent criminal trial, of the evidence obtained in the civil case concerning Cosby's "use of drugs to facilitate his sexual exploits" that violated his due process rights. Id. at 1140. This evidence would not have been available for use in the criminal case if Castor had not induced Cosby to believe he had no choice but to forfeit his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the civil depositions. Importantly, though, it was not until this evidence was actually introduced at Cosby's criminal trial that he was
The majority's misidentification of when the due process violation occurred here leads it also to supply the wrong remedy. The majority concludes: "[O]nly full enforcement of the decision not to prosecute can satisfy the fundamental demands of due process." Majority Opinion at 1144; see id. at 1143-44 (requiring "specific performance of D.A. Castor's decision, in the form of barring Cosby's prosecution for the incident involving Constand"); id. ("neither our principles of justice, nor society's expectations, nor our sense of fair play and decency can tolerate anything short of compelling the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office to stand by the decision of its former elected head"). According to the majority, "[a]nything less under these circumstances would permit the Commonwealth to extract incriminating evidence from a defendant who relies upon the elected prosecutor's words, actions, and intent, and then use that evidence against that defendant with impunity." Id. at 1145. But the majority's own statement proves there is an obvious alternative remedy that more narrowly (but still fully) compensates Cosby for the due process violation: we can simply preclude the prosecution from "us[ing] that evidence against th[e] defendant with impunity," i.e. we can order it suppressed. And, in fact, this is precisely what this Court and many others have done in comparable situations.
Starting with our precedent, the majority properly identifies Commonwealth v. Stipetich, 539 Pa. 428, 652 A.2d 1294 (1995), as most analogous to the present situation. There, Pittsburgh police officers told George Stipetich that if he answered questions concerning the source of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia found in his residence, he and his wife would not be charged. See id. at 1294-95. Stipetich fulfilled his part of the purported non-prosecution agreement by answering all questions posed by police, but the district attorney's office nevertheless charged him and his wife. See id. at 1295. The trial court, citing the alleged agreement, granted the Stipetiches' motion to dismiss the charges, and the Superior Court affirmed. See id. We reversed. See id. at 1296. Recognizing "[t]he Pittsburgh police did not have authority to bind the [district attorney]'s office as to whether charges would be filed[,]" we held "[t]he non-prosecution agreement was, in short, invalid." Id. at 1295.
Even though we deemed the non-prosecution agreement invalid, we continued to consider the remedy afforded by the lower courts. We observed:
Moving beyond the Commonwealth, I observe other jurisdictions have likewise found that suppression, as opposed to specific performance, is often the appropriate remedy for due process violations relative to invalid non-prosecution agreements. See People v. Gallego, 430 Mich. 443, 424 N.W.2d 470, 475 n.12 (1988) (collecting cases in which courts have "den[ied] specific performance of an unauthorized, non-plea agreement which provides that [a] defendant not be prosecuted"); see also generally United States v. Blue, 384 U.S. 251, 255, 86 S.Ct. 1416, 16 L.Ed.2d 510 (1966) ("Even if we assume that the Government did acquire incriminating evidence in violation of the Fifth amendment..., [o]ur numerous precedents ordering the exclusion of such illegally obtained evidence assume implicitly that the remedy does not extend to barring the prosecution altogether.").
Gallego is particularly instructive. In that case, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Oakland County Police entered into a written agreement with the defendant in which they promised they would not prosecute him if he returned $33,000 worth of hidden "buy" money. See id. at 470-71. The defendant returned the money, but several months later was charged with delivery of cocaine because the "prosecutor did not feel bound by the agreement[.]" Id. at 471. On appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected the defendant's position that specific performance of the agreement was required. It reasoned that this remedy was inappropriate based on a number of factors, including: "the instant case involves a non-plea agreement for which specific performance amounts to preclusion of an otherwise valid prosecution"; the decision not to prosecute "stemmed not from those legitimate considerations involved in plea bargaining or in authorized grants of immunity, but rather from less worthy considerations such as the embarrassment resulting from the loss of the buy money"; and there existed "an alternative remedy
Id. at 475-76 (footnote omitted).
I would reach a similar conclusion in this case. Specific performance is only appropriate in drastic circumstances, such as where the defendant detrimentally relies on an inducement and cannot be returned to the status quo ante. Here, although Cosby detrimentally relied on Castor's inducement, we can return him to the position he enjoyed prior to being forced to surrender his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by simply suppressing the evidence derived from the civil depositions at which he testified. We should not use Castor's "blunder" to place Cosby in a better position than he otherwise would have been in by forever barring his prosecution. "So drastic a step" merely "increase[s] to an intolerable degree interference with the public interest in having the guilty brought to book." Blue, 384 U.S. at 255, 86 S.Ct. 1416.
Chief Justice Baer joins this concurring and dissenting opinion.
JUSTICE SAYLOR, dissenting.
I respectfully disagree with the majority's determination that the press release issued by former District Attorney Bruce Castor contained an unconditional promise that the Commonwealth would not prosecute Appellant in perpetuity. See Majority Opinion, op. at 1129-31, 1138-39. Rather, I read the operative language — "District Attorney Castor declines to authorize the filing of criminal charges in connection with this matter" — as a conventional public announcement of a present exercise of prosecutorial discretion by the temporary occupant of the elected office of district attorney that would in no way be binding upon his own future decision-making processes, let alone those of his successor. Accord United States v. Goodwin, 457 U.S. 368, 380, 102 S.Ct. 2485, 2492, 73 L.Ed.2d 74 (1982) (explaining that a prosecutor may forgo legitimate charges at one time and file additional charges later); Brief for Appellee at 95 (observing that the Castor press release "says nothing about the alleged forever immunity"). From my point of view, the majority's position that such statements must be laden with qualifications, on pain of potentially undermining later prosecutions via an effective conferral of transactional immunity, is unsound. Cf. Brief for Amicus Office of Attorney General at 30 (highlighting that crediting Appellant's
I also respectfully differ, in many material regards, with the majority's treatment of the trial court's findings of fact. For example, to counter the trial court's explicit finding that Castor made no promise that the Commonwealth would never prosecute, the majority posits that "[t]he record establishes without contradiction that depriving Cosby of his Fifth Amendment right was D.A. Castor's intended result." Majority Opinion, op. at 1140-41. The fact of an unwritten promise, however, was rejected on credibility grounds, and Castor's account of his motivations underlying his uncredited assertion of a promise need not be separately contradicted by record evidence to also fall by the wayside. In any event, there are numerous possible explanations for why Castor issued a press release reflecting his decision not to prosecute in a high-profile matter, as well as for why he subsequently claimed there was a promise not to prosecute, beginning in his ensuing correspondence with his successor.
For these reasons, I respectfully dissent relative to the Court's order directing a discharge. I note, however, that I have substantial reservations about the trial court's decision to permit the Commonwealth to present testimony from other asserted victims of sexual assaults by Appellant, which allegedly occurred from between fifteen and twenty-two years in the past. Since under the majority's approach the issue is moot, I merely take the opportunity to note that my present, tentative inclination would be to award a new trial grounded upon Appellant's challenge to such evidence as being unduly prejudicial. See generally Commonwealth v. Hicks, 638 Pa. 444, 484-85, 156 A.3d 1114, 1138 (2017) (Saylor, C.J., concurring) ("I maintain concerns about the power of potentially inevitable character inferences associated with other-acts evidence, with requiring defendants to effectively defend mini-trials concerning collateral matters, and about the efficacy of jury instructions in this context.").
42 Pa.C.S. § 5947(a)-(d).
The dissent would amalgamate and confine all "present exercise[s] of prosecutorial discretion" within a single, non-binding, unenforceable, and unreviewable category. Id. We decline to endorse this blanket approach, as such decisions merit, and indeed require, individualized evaluation. To rule otherwise would authorize, if not encourage, prosecutors to choose temporarily not to prosecute, obtain incriminating evidence from the suspect, and then reverse course with impunity. Due process necessarily requires that court officials, particularly prosecutors, be held to a higher standard. This is particularly so in circumstances where the prosecutor's decision is crafted specifically to induce a defendant to forfeit a constitutional right, and where the defendant has relied upon that decision to his detriment. The dissent's approach would turn a blind eye to the reality of such inducements. Due process does not.
The trial court's credibility finding regarding the existence vel non of a particular promise does not allow us to ignore the remainder of the overwhelming evidence of record. The record firmly establishes that D.A. Castor's desired result was to strip Cosby of his Fifth Amendment rights. This patent and developed fact stands separate and apart from the trial court's finding that D.A. Castor never extended a formal promise.
The dissent would ignore the undeniable reality that Cosby relied to his detriment upon D.A. Castor's decision. The dissent does so by shifting the perspective from D.A. Castor's actions to Cosby's, focusing in particular upon the fact that Cosby did not record the purported agreement or reduce it to writing. As we note in this opinion, in this context, neither a promise, nor an agreement, nor a contract, nor evidence of reliance derives legal validity only upon being recorded or upon written materialization. The law knows no such prerequisite, and Cosby cannot be punished for failing to comply with a legal requirement that does not exist. The proof of Cosby's reliance is plain on the face of the record. It is the fact that, upon the advice and assistance of counsel, Cosby sat for four depositions and incriminated himself, obviously a decision made after and in direct reliance upon D.A. Castor's decision.
The ambiguity arises, however, in the ensuing sentence, stating: "District Attorney Castor cautions all parties to this matter that he will reconsider this decision should the need arise." Press Release dated February 17, 2005, N.T., Feb. 2, 2016, Ex. D-4 (emphasis added). In response to the majority's assertion that "this decision" can only refer to Castor's decision to contemporaneously refrain from elaborating, see Majority Opinion, op. at 1138-39, I note that I find the Commonwealth's countervailing rationale to be apt. As it explains: "Earlier in the release[, i.e., in the preceding sentence], ... [Castor] referred to `his decision' not to prosecute; in the next sentence he said he might reconsider `[this] decision.' Reasonable people would read the [latter] sentence as referring to the decision not to prosecute," referenced immediately before. Brief for Appellee at 84 n.29.
Brief for Appellee at 92-93.
Again, it matters little whether the Commonwealth's portrayal is wholly accurate. The determinative factor here should be the trial court's well-supported rejection of Castor's bizarre portrayal of his thought processes, in which: he found that Andrea Constand had drastically damaged her credibility through delayed reporting, pervasive contradictions, and post-assault contacts with Appellant; Castor nevertheless believed Constand's account of the sexual assault despite having never personally met or interviewed her; he decided to act as a "Minister of Justice" to orchestrate unwanted interference in the proceedings in a yet-to-be-filed civil case against Appellant; and, despite believing that Constand was attempting to extort money from Appellant, he "was hoping [she] would sue Cosby, make a lot of money and, incidentally, her lawyers make a big contingent fee." N.T., Feb. 2, 2016, at 48, 64, 114-15, 188, 202, 228 (testimony of Bruce L. Castor, Jr.). The inconsistencies and contradictions notwithstanding, the trial court was under no obligation to accept such an account. See Brief for Appellee at 102 (explaining why it is inappropriate for "a prosecutor to pick sides in a civil case after they have determined not to file criminal charges.").
Additionally, I agree with the trial court, the Commonwealth, and its amici that any claimed reliance would be unreasonable. Accord Brief for Amicus Office of Attorney General at 29 ("Defendant's reliance on an alleged oral promise that was unwritten, unrecorded, and vague was also unreasonable, if not reckless.").