Legal and private judgments of guilt

The comments following my earlier post about Bill Cosby have been interesting. Some have argued that since he has not been convicted in a court of law of giving women drugs and then raping them, he should be given the presumption of innocence as is his right under our legal system.

They are right in that it would be wrong for Cosby to be locked up without going through a full trial just on the basis of the many allegations that have been made by many women. The presumption of innocence is a legal safeguard meant to prevent people from being deprived of their liberty by the state without due process.

But that does not mean that all people must refrain from forming their own judgments about his guilt. People can and do make judgments all the time about others without going through the full trial process. And if we judge them guilty in our minds, then we treat them accordingly.

For example, as far as the Cosby case is concerned, the fact that so many women over such a long time and in so many different contexts have been willing to come forward with such similar allegations despite not having any prior contact with each other, coupled with Cosby’s own non-response to the allegations, and the surprising absence of high-profile fellow celebrities to come to his defense, suggest to me that he is guilty of at least some of the charges and that this is one of those open secrets that suddenly burst into the wider public consciousness, like that of Jian Ghomeshi earlier.

I accept that I may well be wrong and that he is totally innocent. But my current belief that he is largely guilty of unspeakable behavior will undoubtedly color my attitude towards him. Of course, we do not move in the same circles but if we did, I would avoid him and would also warn any woman I knew not to go near him, never be alone with him, and definitely never to accept any medicines or drinks from him.

Am I doing him an injustice by my actions since he hasn’t been convicted in a court of law? I don’t think so. We form judgments about people on the basis of insufficient evidence, and treat them accordingly, all the time. We must do so if we are to be able to navigate life’s rocky terrain. If I suspect that someone in my workplace is a kleptomaniac or a petty thief, then I will avoid leaving valuables lying around although that person may not have been proven guilty. I think I would be remiss if I let unsuspecting women enter Cosby’s orbit and not share with them my concerns. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to them as a result of my silence because of the belief that he had the presumption of innocence since he had not been convicted in a court of law.

The stories about Cosby are now public. People will weigh them and act accordingly. As a result some will think him negatively of him while others will defend his reputation. We cannot definitively say that either is right or wrong until there is a trial. What we cannot expect is that they be erased from public consciousness and not influence people’s opinions of him.


  1. Holms says

    I always thought it was fairly simple. If there is no conviction, then their normal freedomg cannot be infringed, but at the same time there is nothing stopping potential customers exercising their own freedom in where to spend their money; venues, TV stations and the like continue to have the freedom to choose how to allocate their limited bookings / timeslots; advertisers are still free to determine their advertising associations. The disgraced celebrity is not owed our money or attention.

  2. lanir says

    I commented on an earlier story about trying to keep an open mind. I probably explained myself poorly. I do think the things I’ve heard both recently and some time ago were not without merit. In fact I think compared to any defenses that have come up so far, they hold more value. I believe the accusations to be true. Those things have colored my view of him for awhile. But it’s because I don’t move in the same circles that I don’t take a big stand on it. I don’t have anyone in need of a warning from me. I just avoid him.

    I would like to know the truth of the matter but I am not in an ideal position to find it personally. So for this case and others where I think someone with a public life has done something bad I simply avoid promoting them as the simplest course of action. I think it is also the most effective way. I don’t need to waste much of my life or invest much of my energy in someone I think is probably a scumbag to do this.

  3. says

    A determination of a court doesn’t really determine anything other than what the state can now do to punish you. Hopefully it is somewhat accurate, but it’s not exactly scientific. Certainly plenty of innocent people plead guilty, or go to court and are convicted. Likewise, plenty of guilty parties never make it past being charged or if there is a trial, a conviction. Let’s be honest, did the verdict in the Simpson case change the minds of people who thought he was guilty? Should I change my mind about Simpson? (By letting the state dictate how I personally, evaluate the evidence?) Shouldn’t we as individuals gather what evidence we can and weigh it independently from the various flaws and limitations of the legal system and make determinations of various degrees of certainty and act according to those various degrees of certainty? For example, I’d rather err on the side of caution with a one level of certainty and not go over an alleged rapists house even if I don’t feel certain enough to berate him in public.

    Beside, many of the people who seem to like fetishizing this guilty in a court of law standard have little problem deciding they think other people (whom they do not like) likely committed similar crimes without a trial. (e.g. various religious leaders)

  4. OlliP says

    We don’t know the truth even after a trial, if there is one. We just know if a bunch of people thought that the evidence already meets a very high standard of probability of guilt.
    Cosby could be acquitted in a trial and still be more likely than not guilty of the things he is accused of. And if its something like 60-40, it would be right to acquit him. But we would still not know the truth, we would just know if a bunch of people thought his guilt was very likely true. And it would still be right to warn people about him: “be careful of that guy, there is a lot of talk going around that he abuses and rapes women.”

  5. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    The fact is no one knows the truth of what happened except Cosby and his accusers. It is quite possible that some of that truth might come out in a trial, as could the lies if they exist. For example, I have read elsewhere that one of the similarities in the victim’s accounts is that they claim to have trusted Cosby based on his “father-figure” image and sought him out for “mentoring.” Unfortunately, that image is based on his performance as Dr Huxtable on the Cosby Show which aired in 1984. Some of the alleged rapes occurred in the 1970’s, when the Cosby Show didn’t exist and therefore neither did Cosby’s “father-figure” image which was based on it.

    Poorly considered fabrications often unravel upon cross examination in a trial based on niggly details like this. This isn’t proof some of the victims lied about the rape, which may be real enough, but suggests they borrowed what they thought were convincing details from someone else’s story they heard in the media without considering whether it truly applied to their own case.

    I don’t think you are doing an injustice to Cosby expressing an opinion on his guilt. It is too late to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted. The damage to Cosby’s life and reputation have already been done by the mass media and of course it is appropriate for people to form their own opinions as with any event in the news. When I talk about a lynch mob mentality, I am referring to the way the mass media presents these cases in a particular way to achieve a particular effect, often omitting critical evidence or contrary views that might call the narrative into question. There is also the way those who question the accepted narrative are invariably attacked for doing so. This is the essence of propaganda and lies.

    We have libel laws for a reason, and that is in recognition of the fact that accusations whether real or imagined can have a devastating impact on people’s lives.While it may seem necessary at times to warn others of those we consider to be suspect, an awareness of the dangers of malicious gossip should be foremost when doing so as well as a recognition that we are not infallible in our judgment of character or evidence.

  6. bigwhale says

    Or maybe he has always had a father figure image which is why the show was made and so successful. Not to mention just being successful is enough to be a mentor candidate.

    But feel free to demand electronic perfect memories from decades ago before you will believe a rape victim. You should examine why you have more empathy for the rapist than the victims. What is it about him that makes you indentify with him?

  7. sailor1031 says

    There ya go Big Whale – doin’ exactly what Sean was writing about;

    There is also the way those who question the accepted narrative are invariably attacked for doing so. This is the essence of propaganda and lies.

    way to go!

  8. says

    If we required a legal standard of evidence (aka: “proof”) for holding an opinion, politics and commerce would be impossible, as would all interpersonal relationships. We have to take some things on suspicion, always: is that guy who’s fixing my car going to steal it, or return it repaired? Is my buddy of 14 years really a friend, or is he a covert agent? etc. There is no such thing as “truth” there are simply many different interpretations of some underlying reality; Kurosawa explored this to some effect in “Rashomon” We live on partial information.

  9. says

    The fact is no one knows the truth of what happened except Cosby and his accusers

    That’s not a fact, at all!! One person, not an “accuser” has already come forward and said that he was a facilitator of Cosby’s assaults. ( ) including presenting evidence of payoffs. In effect, he’s not just supporting that Cosby raped women, he’s fingered several other people who would know: the modeling agency director and other people who were on the set. You appear to be under the impression that these things happen in a vacuum, but they don’t: crimes like these take place in a network of social relationships, and people close to it are constantly forming impressions and memories. You’re also ignoring Cosby’s established habit of paying women off, such as the woman, who was not his wife, who bore his son. She’s probably got some stories to tell, too, mmmm? And, do you really think Camille has absolutely no idea what was going on, while she was living on the east coast and her husband was living the Hollywood lifestyle on the west coast? There are probably over a hundred or two hundred people who know what was going on, and the accusers are a small percentage of the story. Rape apologists want to pretend that they’re the only story, then dismiss them for lack of “proof” but to anyone reasonable it ought to be clear that there’s a much deeper story and there are a lot of people who haven’t come forward to make accusations or to refute them. Why aren’t all the other people who were constantly on the set when this allegedly was going on coming forward and saying, “are you fucking kidding me? Cosby was always with us; that story about ‘auditions’ is complete nonsense and that little weasel Frank Scotti has a history of being a pathological liar…” It may happen that way. But it hasn’t, yet.

    This isn’t proof some of the victims lied about the rape, which may be real enough, but suggests they borrowed what they thought were convincing details from someone else’s story they heard in the media without considering whether it truly applied to their own case.

    It also could be that the commonality you’re seeing is Cosby’s sexual modus operandi.
    Which do you think is more likely?
    Don’t fall back on a standard of proof; this isn’t a court case (in case you hadn’t noticed).

    The damage to Cosby’s life and reputation have already been done by the mass media

    No, the damage to Cosby’s reputation has been done by about 17 people who have accused him of raping them, plus a renfield who claims to have been a facilitator. The media is broadcasting their stories, but ultimately what it boils down to is the question of why they are telling that story. Do you think it’s just a bizzare conspiracy to hurt Cosby – a conspiracy laid down over decades like some kind of “Murder on the Orient Express” revenge plot? For what? Or, like the “Murder on the Orient Express” revenge plot, are the actions of these people explainable not as a conspiracy but simply as a bunch of people Cosby harmed being sick of him getting away with it?

    There is also the way those who question the accepted narrative are invariably attacked for doing so

    Why would they do that? Is that also part of the conspiracy?

    I have absolutely no skin in this game at all; I attack your comments as foolish because I think they’re foolish on the face of it. It’s that simple. I’m not attacking you because I was paid off by Cosby’s accusers and I am/was a huge fan of his. I’m as unhappy about these accusations as I can be. The only thing that would make me unhappier would be if they were true and I was making an ass of myself apologizing for a rapist. Like you are.

  10. Sean (I am not an imposter) says

    You once again conflate accusations, insinuations and evidence. Has Scotti specifically stated that Cosby raped these women and that he is therefore an accessory to rape? No. He has said he had no idea what Cosby was doing with these women. Has he claimed the “payouts” (loaded word alert) were hush money, or were they payments for sexual favors or simply gifts? The checks are not in Cosby’s name.

    One woman who received a check accused Cosby of raping her in 1992, but the check is dated 1990. Another said it was a gift from Cosby for her kid, another was to a woman convicted of trying to extort money from Cosby. Seeing a pattern here? I would not be surprised if all this is a red herring planted by Cosby’s team.

    I notice that none of the gratuitous “rape apology” accusers here have expressed any problem with the sleazebag media releasing the names of the women who received those checks, effectively destroying their reputations with innuendo along with Cosby’s.

    You talk about Cosby’s “established habit” of “paying women off,” as if every dime he ever gave to anyone must have been hush money. Was the $20 million he gave to black colleges a cover up for raping students there? Must have been.

    “Don’t fall back on a standard of proof; this isn’t a court case (in case you hadn’t noticed).”

    I’ve noticed it’s a standard media lynching, in which innuendo is king and proof is nothing. You’re already convinced and I doubt that any amount of reason or evidence will unconvince you.

  11. Holms says

    Goodo. Did you perhaps see my post re: our judgements lead to actions do not infringe on his freedoms in any way?

  12. Numenaster says

    So, a “standard media lynching” is just like a real lynching, except that the lynchee is still walking around healthy as ever. Got it.

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