Bill Cosby sentencing: What to expect this week and why this won’t be the end of the story

The nearly four-year effort to jail Bill Cosby as a convicted sexual assailant reaches the end of its first phase on Monday when a two-day sentencing hearing gets underway in Pennsylvania. 

That’s when Cosby, 81, will learn his fate following his April conviction on three counts of aggravated felony sexual assault for drugging and molesting a former friend, Andrea Constand, at his home in Montgomery County outside Philadelphia in January 2004.  

Whatever happens, will not be the end of the matter. Cosby is expected to appeal his conviction, which could be overturned at some future date.

Here’s a primer on the hearing itself and what comes next:

Why will it take two days and who will be allowed to speak?

When Judge Steven O’Neill scheduled two days for sentencing, he built in enough time for multiple accusers to make “victim impact statements” about what they say Cosby did to them and how it affected them.

At the time, it was thought he might allow testimony from any of the 60 women who say Cosby sexually assaulted them, including allegations that were never charged as crimes in Pennsylvania or anywhere else.

But on Thursday, O’Neill narrowed that field to just six: Constand and the five other women who testified at the retrial. He also offered Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele the alternate option of incorporating their testimony into the prosecution’s statement.

How much time might Cosby get?

He could get a total of up to 30 years in prison in a sentence to be handed down by O’Neill, who presided over Cosby’s second trial as well as his first one, which ended in a hung jury/mistrial in June 2017.

There is a complicated formula for calculating his sentence, based on such factors as prior record, which for Cosby is zero. The sentencing possibilities include a “standard” range, a “mitigated” range or an “aggravated” range for a person deemed to be still a threat.  

There is no mandatory sentencing in Pennsylvania so the judge can decide within a range or beyond as long as he puts his reasoning on the record.

How long could Bill Cosby spend in prison?  Possibly enough to make it a life sentence

Could he be in jail by Tuesday night?

Yes, Cosby could be sentenced and sent immediately to prison, in which case he would be handcuffed and taken into custody at the conclusion of the hearing. That is the aim of the prosecution team, led by Steele.

Or he could be sentenced and allowed to remain free while he is appealing, under similar conditions imposed after his conviction: house arrest with an ankle bracelet and limited to trips to see his doctors or his lawyers. 

What would a “sexually violent predator” designation mean for Cosby?

The hearing will also deal with whether Cosby will be designated a sexually violent predator under Pennsylvania law. A state board has already recommended he should be and Steele agrees. 

Such a designation will have no effect on the length of the sentence. Instead, the designation would require him to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and undergo treatment in prison and after.  However, if Cosby is given home arrest or a suspended sentence, he must comply immediately.

Explainer:  What happens if Bill Cosby is classified as a ‘sexually violent predator?’

When can he appeal and on what grounds?

Cosby’s third team of lawyers, led by Philadelphia attorney Joseph Green, can begin the appeals process as soon as O’Neill hands down his sentence. 

One strategy for appeal might be to argue that prosecutors violated Cosby’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. How? Steele and his team used a 2005-06 deposition he gave during Constand’s civil lawsuit more than a decade ago as the basis for charging him.

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