Recently, a Philadelphia judge found that there was probable cause for
Bill Cosby to stand trial on
rape charges. The prosecution contends that years ago, the 78-year-old actor drugged
a woman and then had sex with her while she was unable to consent.
What Does Probable Cause Mean?
Probable cause is arguably one of the lowest standards of proof in the
criminal justice system. It means that “there is
some evidence to believe that a crime
may have been committed and that the accused
may be the person responsible for committing it.”
Pretty weak, huh?
So then the question becomes, how can the prosecution prove, beyond a reasonable
doubt that Cosby committed this rape years ago, particularly when the
victim was impaired or intoxicated? Simple. It’s what criminal defense
attorneys call "404(B)," or "other acts evidence."
Other Acts Evidence
In most states, and in
federal court, the rules of evidence allow evidence of other acts committed by the defendant
to be presented to the jury,
even if they are not crimes with which the defendant has been criminally charge. Several stringent requirements exists, though, before such evidence can
come into play. The danger, of course, as most
criminal defense attorneys will tell you is that even if the jury thinks that the defendant is not
guilty of the crime with which they are charged, the other acts may cause
them to think “When there’s smoke, there’s fire,”
thus causing jurors to change their vote to guilty on the actual charge
which are deliberating.
Other acts evidence can be introduced to show:
- Absence of Mistake
Prosecutors will have the additional hurdle of showing that introducing
these other acts is not unduly prejudicial to Cosby, and that they don’t
mislead or distract the jury from the real issue at hand.
What Other Acts Is the Prosecution Offering Against Bill Cosby?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that numerous women
have come forward and claimed the same thing as his victim – that
Cosby drugged their drinks and then raped them.
Prosecutors will likely present just a few of these women whose stories
are very similar to that of the victim whom he is (officially) charged
with raping. Similar stories will lend credence to the idea that these
“other acts” are being offered to show that it was Cosby’s
“motive,” “intent,” and “plan” to
drug women so that he could have sex with them. If they get greedy and
try to bring out too many other instances or acts, or to present accounts
that are factually dissimilar, the judge could preclude all of the prosecution’s
other acts evidence – something that could be a fatal blow to their case.
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