Prosecutors asked the US Supreme Court to review the ruling that overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction, arguing in a petition that a dangerous precedent could be set if press releases are treated as immunity agreements.
Cosby’s lawyers have long argued that he relied on a promise that he would never be charged when he gave damaging evidence in an accuser’s civil suit in 2006.
The admissions were later used against him in two criminal trials.
The only written evidence of such a promise is a 2005 press release from the then-prosecutor, Bruce Castor, who said he did not have enough evidence to arrest Cosby.
The release included an ambiguous “caution” that Mr Castor “will reconsider this decision should the need arise”.
The parties have since spent years debating what that meant.
“This decision as it stands will have far-reaching negative consequences beyond Montgomery County and Pennsylvania.
“The US Supreme Court can right what we believe is a grievous wrong,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele wrote in the petition, which seeks a Supreme Court review under the due process clause of the US Constitution.
Prosecutors have also complained that the chief judge of the state’s high court appeared to misstate key facts of the case when he discussed the court ruling that overturned Cosby’s conviction in a television interview.
Mr Castor’s successors, who gathered new evidence and arrested Cosby in 2015, say it falls far short of a lifetime immunity agreement.
Bill Cosby arrives for his sentencing hearing (Matt Slocum/AP)
They also doubt that Mr Castor ever made such a deal.
“Instead, they say Cosby had strategic reasons to give the deposition rather than invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, even if it backfired when “he slipped up” in his rambling evidence.”
However, defence lawyers say the case should never have gone to trial because of what they call a “non-prosecution agreement”.
Cosby, 84, became the first celebrity convicted of sexual assault in the #MeToo era when the jury at his 2018 retrial found him guilty of drugging and molesting college sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004.
He spent nearly three years in prison before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set him free in June.
Mr Steele’s bid to revive the case is a long shot.
The US Supreme Court accepts fewer than 1% of the petitions it receives.
Legal scholars and victim advocates will be watching closely, though, to see if the court takes an interest in a high-profile #MeToo case.
Two justices on the court, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, were accused of sexual misconduct during their bitterly fought confirmation hearings.
Appellate judges have voiced sharply different views of the Cosby case.
An intermediate state court upheld the conviction.
Then the seven justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote three separate opinions on it.