What to watch for in Bill Cosby’s sentencing

Not good, for all to see.
Not good, for all to see.
Image: Reuters/Jessica Kourkounis
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For the past six months, Bill Cosby has languished in his mansion in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, after being placed under house arrest. In April, the comedian and actor was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting former professional basketball player Andrea Constand in his home near Philadelphia 14 years ago. Today (Sept. 24), he’ll receive his sentence in court in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Cosby faces as much as 30 years incarceration—10 years for each of three counts of aggravated indecent assault. But whether he’ll actually spend even a fraction of that time in prison remains to be seen, especially as Cosby has no prior criminal record. Moreover, a New York Times analysis of similar crimes sentenced in Pennsylvania courts showed that most offenders received sentences of as little as two to five years.

The world is watching as one of its most beloved entertainers in history walks into the courthouse. But it’s not just about Cosby. As the country grapples with account after account of sexual abuse by powerful men, this is the first major conviction of the #MeToo era—and may be emblematic of just how seriously these charges will be taken.

Who will speak?

It’s not yet clear whether Constand herself will testify, though family members may speak out about how her life has been affected by the event. Even less apparent is whether the five women who gave accounts of similar crimes at his April trial will take the stand. The prosecution will argue for tough sentencing—but may not get it.

So far, Cosby himself has denied sexually abusing any of the dozens of women who have given accounts of being drugged and assaulted by him. Whether that changes today isn’t certain, though contrition seems unlikely. Either way, his defense team will likely hang its case on mitigating factors like his age—he’s over 80—and the fact that he’s legally blind. Witnesses may be brought forth to defend his character and lack of a criminal record. The court also will hear the results of a pre-sentencing investigation and an evaluation of his mental health.

Is Cosby headed to jail?

There’s a good chance Cosby’s legal team will file an appeal challenging judge Steven T. O’Neill’s trial and pretrial ruling. If they do, the question of whether Cosby can remain out on bail throughout the process is an open one. Already, the decision to put him on house arrest has been seen as leniency by many—in the case of an appeal, O’Neill will have to decide whether Cosby deserves to retain his freedom, or whether he poses a flight risk.

What happens now?

Short of house arrest or being allowed to stay free during the appeals process, one of the best possible outcomes for Cosby is a short sentence. State guidelines for appropriate sentencing ranges begin at just four months—in which he case he might serve his time in a county facility. If the sentence is longer than two years, he’ll head to state prison, where he may be placed in a facility designed for older or frail inmates.