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New York Supreme Court overturns Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 rape conviction

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New York Supreme Court overturns Harvey Weinstein's 2020 rape conviction

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s highest court on Thursday overturned Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 rape conviction, saying the judge in the landmark #MeToo trial biased the ex-movie mogul with “blatantly” inappropriate statements, including a decision to have women testify about allegations that were not part of the case.

“We conclude that the trial court improperly admitted testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts against persons other than the complainants of the underlying crimes,” the court’s 4-3 decision said. “The remedy for these glaring errors is a new trial.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling reopens a painful chapter in America’s reckoning with sexual misconduct by powerful figures — an era that began in 2017 with a flood of accusations against Weinstein. His accusers could once again be forced to retell their stories on the witness stand.

Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan courthouse for jury deliberations in his 2020 New York rape trial.

The court majority said it is an “abuse of judicial discretion to allow untested allegations of nothing more than bad conduct that destroys a defendant’s character but sheds no light on his credibility in connection with the criminal charges filed against him.”

In a sharp dissent, Justice Madeline Singas wrote that the majority “whitewashed the facts to conform to a he-said/she-said narrative,” and said the Court of Appeals continued a “disturbing trend of undoing guilty jury verdicts in cases involving sexual violence.”

“The majority’s determination perpetuates outdated views on sexual violence and allows predators to escape responsibility,” Singas wrote.

Weinstein, 72, is serving a 23-year sentence in a New York prison following his conviction on charges of criminal sexual act for forcibly performing oral sex on a TV and film production assistant in 2006 and third-degree rape for an assault on an aspiring actress in 2013.

The 72-year-old is serving a 23-year sentence in a New York prison after his conviction.
The 72-year-old is serving a 23-year sentence in a New York prison after his conviction.

ETIENNE LAURENT via Getty Images

He will remain imprisoned because he was convicted in Los Angeles in 2022 of a new rape and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Weinstein was acquitted in Los Angeles on charges leveled by one of the women who testified in New York.

Weinstein attorney Arthur Aidala said immediately after the ruling came out: “We all worked very hard and this is a huge victory for every criminal defendant in New York State.”

Attorney Douglas H. Wigdor, who has represented eight of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers, including two witnesses in the New York criminal trial, called the ruling “a major step back in holding accountable those responsible for acts of sexual violence.”

“Courts routinely admit evidence of other uncharged acts when assisting juries in understanding issues regarding the defendant’s modus operandi or plan. The jury was instructed as to the relevance of this testimony and the overturning of the verdict is tragic as it will result in the victims having to go through another trial,” Wigdor said in a statement.

Weinstein’s lawyers argued that Judge James Burke’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff turned the trial into a “1-800-GET-HARVEY.”

The former movie mogul remains jailed because he was convicted of another rape in Los Angeles in 2022 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
The former movie mogul remains jailed because he was convicted of another rape in Los Angeles in 2022 and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

The reversal of Weinstein’s conviction is the second major #MeToo setback in the past two years, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a Pennsylvania court decision to overturn Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction.

Weinstein’s conviction lasted for more than four years, heralded as a milestone by activists and advocates, but just as quickly dissected by his lawyers and later by the Court of Appeal when it heard arguments on the issue in February.

Accusations against Weinstein, the once powerful and feared studio boss behind Oscar winners like ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Shakespeare in Love’ ushered in the #MeToo movement. Dozens of women came forward to accuse Weinstein, including famous actresses such as Ashley Judd and Uma Thurman. His trial in New York attracted much publicity protesters chanted “rapist” outside the courthouse.

Weinstein is incarcerated in New York at the Mohawk Correctional Facility, about 100 miles northwest of Albany.

He maintains his innocence. He claims that any sexual activity was consensual.

Aidala argued before the appeals court in February that Burke influenced the trial by allowing three women to testify about allegations that were not part of the case and by allowing prosecutors to confront Weinstein, if he had testified, with his long history of brutal behavior. .

Aidala argued that the additional testimony went beyond the normally allowed details of motive, opportunity, intent, or a common plan or plan, and essentially tried Weinstein for crimes of which he was not accused.

Weinstein wanted to testify but chose not to because Burke’s ruling would have meant answering questions about more than two dozen alleged acts of misconduct dating back four decades, Aidala said. These included arguing with his film producer brother, turning over a table in anger, snapping at waiters and shouting at his assistants.

“We had a suspect who begged to tell his side of the story. It’s a he said, she said thing, and he says, ‘That’s not how it happened. I’ll tell you how I did it,” Aidala argued. Instead, jurors heard evidence of Weinstein’s previous bad behavior that “had nothing to do with truth and truthfulness. It was all ‘he’s a bad guy.’

Aidala also took issue with Burke’s refusal to dismiss a juror who had written a novel about predatory older men, a subject the attorney said was too similar to the issues in Weinstein’s case.

An attorney for the Manhattan district attorney, who prosecuted the case, argued that the judge’s statements were accurate and that the additional evidence and testimony he allowed was important to give jurors context about Weinstein’s conduct and the manner in which he interacted with women.

“The defendant’s argument was that they had a consensual and loving relationship both before and after the charged incidents,” Chief Steven Wu argued, referring to one of the women Weinstein was accused of assaulting. The additional testimony “just completely refuted that characterization.”

Wu said Weinstein’s acquittal on the most serious charges — two counts of predatory sexual assault and a charge of first-degree rape involving actor Annabella Sciorra in a rape in the mid-1990s — showed that jurors were paying attention and not confused or overwhelmed were because of the additional testimony.

The Associated Press does not generally identify people who claim they have been sexually assaulted unless they agree to be named; Sciorra has spoken publicly about her allegations.

The Court of Appeal agreed last year to take on Weinstein’s case after an interim appeals court upheld his conviction. Before their ruling, lower appeals court judges had raised doubts about Burke’s conduct during oral arguments. One noted that Burke had done so Lets Prosecutors Continue With “Incredibly Damaging Testimony” of additional witnesses.

Burke’s term expired at the end of 2022. He was not reappointed and is no longer a judge.

On appeal, Weinstein’s lawyers demanded a new trial, but only on the sex charges. They argued that the rape charge could not be retried because it involved alleged conduct outside the statute of limitations.