Colin McCallin Nov. 21, 2014

It has been a rough few days for Bill Cosby who, until recently, was arguably one of America’s most beloved comedians. He has been accused by multiple women that he drugged and raped them back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The modus operendi appears to be the same- that he either directly or surreptitiously gave his victims pills which put them into a stupor, and he then sexually abused them.

These allegations are incredibly serious, so why isn’t he in handcuffs and in jail? There are really two reasons.

First, Cosby is protected by statutes of limitation. Statutes of limitation are written laws that restrict the maximum time after an incident that criminal charges may be initiated. Once the period of time specified in a statute of limitation passes, a criminal charge can no longer be validly filed. This means that the police can conduct an investigation, but they must charge an individual within the prescribed period of time in the statute of limitations. The statutes vary state to state. Many states in recent years have extended statutes of limitations, or even eliminated them altogether for serious cases such as homicides or sexual assaults, especially following the improvements with DNA testing and other cold case investigative techniques. However, in Cosby’s situation, there doesn’t seem to be a case where physical evidence exists that can corroborate his victims’ claims.

Second, even if the statute of limitations in a particular jurisdiction allows charges to be filed, a large amount of time has passed since the incidents took place. This is a problem for prosecutors. Victims would face intense cross examination as to why there was such a delay in reporting these incidents. Also, many of Cosby’s victims sued him civilly, which can allow a jury to conclude that his victims are merely seeking monetary compensation, which could affect their credibility. Delays in reporting are not uncommon in rape cases. Many women are reluctant to move forward and put themselves in the public eye with their allegations; this is especially true in high profile cases. But these are issues that the prosecution would have to overcome.

This is not to say that Cosby won’t be charged. With the multitude of separate allegations swirling around, the court of public opinion seems to be moving against him. His events are getting cancelled and his sponsors are leaving him. With more women seemingly stepping forward every day, public pressure may spark a district attorney to charge him if the statute of limitations allows.