Harvey Weinstein’s Cornerstone Conviction Overturned

Social Justice Policy Brief #165 | By: Devyne Byrd | May 22, 2024
Featured Photo: www.telegraph.co.uk

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The New York Court of Appeals overturned Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 rape conviction in a 4-3 decision. The Court found that the trial judge improperly allowed testimony against Weinstein from other women that contained uncharged alleged prior sexual acts against people other than the complainants in the case. The Court stated that the testimony “served no material non-propensity purpose” and that the trial court’s decision to allow the defendant to be cross-examined about the allegations chilled the defendant’s right to testify. They ordered a new trial.

The initial trial of Weinstein was a cornerstone victory of the #MeToo movement. Weinstein was accused by over 80 women of sexual assault and sexual harassment spanning decades throughout his career. The trial drew intense media attention and crowds with protesters gathering to chant “rapist” outside the courthouse. His case being remanded comes after Bill Cosby, another cornerstone conviction of the #MeToo movement,had his case overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Judge Singas touches on the blows to the movement in her notable dissent to the New York Court of Appeals decision, calling out a “disturbing trend of overturning jury’s guilty verdicts in cases involving sexual violence.” She went on to state that by excluding evidence of past acts the majority’s decision excludes important context. “This conclusion deprives juries of the context necessary to do their work, forecloses the prosecution from using an essential tool to prove intent, ignores the nuances of how sexual violence is perpetrated and perceived, and demonstrates the majority’s utter lack of understanding of the dynamics of sexual assault.”

Although the conviction was overturned, Weinstein remains in prison on subsequent convictions of rape and sexual misconduct for which he was sentenced to 16 years. His legal team has stated their intentions to appeal these convictions as well. However, the Manhattan District Attorney has intentions to retry Weinstein and his accusers have stated through their attorneys their intentions to testify again. In the interim, the New York Senate is set to pass a bill that will update the rules of evidence in trials to clarify that judges can admit testimony about a defendant’s alleged prior sexual offenses.

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