Harvey Weinstein New York Rape Conviction Overturned

The disgraced producer may be retried after an appeals judge ruled his case was prejudicial

Harvey Weinstein
NEW YORK, NY – FEBRUARY 21: Harvey Weinstein arrives to the court on February 21, 2020 in New York City. Weinstein has pleaded not-guilty to five counts of rape and sexual assault. He faces a possible life sentence in prison if convicted. (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

New York’s top court overturned Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 conviction on felony sex crime charges Thursday, in a shocking reversal of the most high-profile case of the #MeToo era.

The New York State Court of Appeals found that the trial judge who handed Weinstein’s case “erroneously admitted testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts,” allowing information to be presented that prejudiced the jury because the accusations weren’t part of the charges against him.

Weinstein, now 72, served about four years of his original 23-year sentence in a prison in upstate Rome, New York.

“We’re studying the appeal and we don’t know the full ramifications of it yet,” Weinstein’s spokesperson Juda Engelmayer told TheWrap. “Harvey doesn’t know about the ruling yet – we can’t call him in jail, he can only call us. We have emailed him, his lawyer has emailed him, but he hasn’t yet responded. His team is cautiously excited.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is currently trying former President Donald Trump in the hush money case, will have to decide whether to retry the case. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While he could potentially not be retried in New York, Weinstein will not walk free. He was also convicted in 2022 for the 2013 sexual assault and rape of an Italian model at a Beverly Hills hotel room, and was sentenced to 16 years in California prison. In the LA trial, notably, he was acquitted in Los Angeles on charges involving one of the women who testified in New York, former model Lauren Young.

Weinstein, an Oscar-winning producer who wielded significant power in Hollywood, saw his career and reputation implode in 2017 after a New York Times report triggered a wave of sexual misconduct accusations from more than 100 women. The allegations against Weinstein played a pivotal role in igniting the #MeToo movement, which led to a global discussion about the widepread harassment and abuse of women in the workplace and was a catalyst in the taking down influential men across dozens of industries.

In the February 2020 New York conviction, a jury found Weinstein guilty of third-degree rape of Jessica Mann and a criminal sexual act against actress Miriam Haley. It also found him not guilty of two other serious charges — predatory sexual assault against Haley, Mann and “Sopranos” actress Annabella Scoirra — and the first-degree rape of Mann.

He appealed the verdict in 2021, arguing that a specific juror who had written a novel about “predatory older men,” and the admission of witnesses testifying to “prior bad acts,” affected his ability to have a fair trial.

The trial focused on the accusations of just Mann, Haley and Scoirra. It was the testimony from three of the other women who accused Weinstein of sexual misbehavior — Young, costume designer Dawn Dunning, model Tarale Wulff — that sank the conviction.

“Every person accused of a crime is constitutionally presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial and the opportunity to present a defense,” Judge Jenny Rivera of the New York Court of Appeals wrote in the decision that overturned Weinstein’s conviction, adding that the presumption of innocence is “a basic component of a fair trial under our system of criminal justice.”

Rivera continued that “the accused has a right to be held account only for the crime charged, and thus, allegations of prior bad acts may not be admitted against them for the sole purpose of establishing their propensity for criminality.”

While prior convictions may be used to “impeach the accused’s credibility,” Rivera wrote that the testimony detailing uncharged alleged prior sexual acts against women who were not involved in the charges against Weinstein was unfair.

“The court compounded that error when it ruled that defendant, who had no criminal history, could be cross examined about those allegations as well as numerous allegations of misconduct that portrayed defendant in a highly prejudicial light,” Rivera wrote. “The synergistic effect of these errors was not
harmless.”

The only evidence against Weinstein was the testimony, the 4-3 decision noted, and the trial judge’s ruling allowing the testimony about uncharged accusations bolstered the credibility of the women.

“It is an abuse of judicial discretion to permit untested allegations of nothing more than bad behavior that destroys a defendant’s character but sheds no light on their credibility as related to the criminal charges,” Rivera wrote.

Rivera turned back arguments from dissenting judges that the ruling would mean a “step backwards from recent advances in our understanding of how sex crimes are perpetrated and why victims sometimes respond in seemingly counterintuitive ways,” and that the majority “shuts its eyes to the enduring effect of rape culture on notions of consent, and intent.”

“On the contrary, consistent with our judicial role, our analysis is grounded on bedrock principles of evidence and the defendant’s constitutional right to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial,” Rivera wrote.

The proper way to dispel myths about rape is to educate the jury with testimony from experts, she added.

The decision continued, “justice for sexual assault victims is not incompatible with well-established rules of evidence designed to ensure that criminal convictions result only from the illegal conduct charged. Indeed, just as rape myths may impact the trier of fact’s deliberative process, propensity evidence has a bias-inducing effect on jurors and tends to undermine the truth-seeking function of trials.”

Rivera also swiped away claims by the prosecutor that “the unusual nature of the entertainment industry” and Weinstein’s stature in it required the additional witnesses, maintaining that the “perverse quid pro quo,” of superiors imposing unwanted sexual relations on subordinates at work is not unique to the “casting couch,” but rather a “history reality” for women across the workplace.

Attorney Douglas H. Wigdor, who has represented eight Weinstein accusers including two witnesses at the New York trial, told The Associated Press the ruling is “a major step back in holding those accountable for acts of sexual violence.”

“Courts routinely admit evidence of other uncharged acts where they assist juries in understanding issues concerning the intent, modus operandi or scheme of the defendant,” Wigdor said in a statement. “The jury was instructed on the relevance of this testimony and overturning the verdict is tragic in that it will require the victims to endure yet another trial.”

Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala told the New York Times, “This is not just a victory for Mr. Weinstein but for every criminal defendant in the state of New York, and we compliment the Court of Appeals for upholding the most basic principles that a criminal defendant should have in a trial.”

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