Former Hollywood actor and comedian Bill Cosby is back inside the courtroom, this time over claims he sexually assaulted a person considered to be a minor in California.
The former celebrity was released from a federal prison last year when his criminal conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand was overturned.
Now, Mr Cosby faces a civil lawsuit commenced by a woman named Judy Huth, who claims the former star sexually assaulted her at the Playboy mansion when she was 16 years old.
Ms Huth filed the lawsuit in 2014 – when Cosby was facing multiple sexual assault charges – but the case was delayed pending finalisation of criminal matters.
She claims in court documents that she and a female friend met Bill Cosby at a park. She claims that days later, Cosby took the pair to play tennis and gave them alcohol, before taking them to the Playboy mansion.
Huth claims that Cosby assaulted her at the Mansion, “putting his hand down her pants, and then taking her hand in his hand and performing a sex act on himself without consent”.
However, there are notable inconsistencies in terms of the dates Ms Huth alleges the assault took place.
She originally claimed it occurred in 1974, but later said it occurred in 1975 when she was 16 years old and Mr Cosby was 37.
The legal age of sexual consent in California is 18 years old.
Civil case underway
After Cosby was released from custody and statute of limitation periods expired in respect of potential further criminal charges, Ms Huth’s civil case recommenced and is currently before court in Los Angeles.
It is expected to run for two weeks.
The criminal allegations
More than 50 women across the United States accused Mr Cosby of sexual assault and other forms of misconduct.
The entertainer was arrested in 2015 on charges that he had drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand at his home in the Philadelphia suburbs nearly 11 years earlier.
A jury ultimately found him guilty in 2018 of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against the complainant.
Mr Cosby served three years of a three to 10-year prison sentence, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that a “non-prosecution agreement” involving a previous prosecutor meant he should never have been charged in the first place.
The court also ruled out a re-trial.
The ‘non-prosecution agreement’
In 2005, when Mr Cosby was investigated for the complaint by Ms Constand, a District Attorney in Montgomery County gave an assurance that he would not be criminally charged over the allegations.
It was then announced in a news release at the time that an investigation had found “insufficient” evidence to criminally prosecute the entertainer.
This resulted in Mr Cosby testifying in a civil case brought against him by Ms Constand, which was settled in 2006 for $3.38 million.
In his testimony during the civil proceedings, Mr Cosby admitted giving quaaludes to women he was pursuing for sex, and this evidence played a key part in his prosecution, which recommenced just days before the expiry of the 12-year limitation period during which charges could be brought.
The prosecution included additional allegations from women who asserted they had also been being drugged and sexually assaulted.
After carefully considering the course of the matter, including that a prosecution may never have eventuated if Cosby refused to testify during the civil proceedings, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that “the subsequent decision by successor District Attorneys to prosecute Mr Cosby violated Mr Cosby’s due process rights.”
To put it another way, the court found that Mr Cosby relied on the promise made to him by the District Attorney in 2005, gave evidence to his own detriment as a result, and that it was a violation of his rights to then use that evidence to support a criminal prosecution.
Cosby to face multiple civil lawsuits
The civil case brought by Ms Constand is one of severeal filed by women against Mr Cosby, but the first to make it to trial.
Another civil trial in New Jersey is pending. It has been lodged by a former Cosby Show actress who alleges that Bill Cosby drugged and raped her in Atlantic City in 1990.
Up to 60 women have made allegations of sexual abuse against the former star.
While the statute of limitations for criminal charges in Ms Huth’s case has long since expired, she is able to seek damages due to a recent California law that extended the time-period in which victims of child sex abuse can file civil lawsuits.
Limitation period and age of consent in New South Wales
Unlike it the United States, there is no period in New South Wales within which proceedings must be commenced in serious criminal cases, such as sexual assaults and other ‘indictable cases’. In other words, there is no ‘limitation period’ or ‘statute of limitations’ for these types of cases.
The age of sexual consent in New South Wales is generally 16 years, except in the case of children under ‘special care’ in which the age increases to 18 years. The latter period – which is consistent with the age of consent in California – is embodied in sections 73 and 73A of the Crimes Act 1900.
In 2016, laws were enacted in New South Wales removing limitations for civil cases relating to historical claims of sexual assault.