Top New York court overturns Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 rape conviction

Defence and prosecution prepare for retrial of the once-powerful movie producer in a case that was a landmark for the #MeToo movement.

A close up of film prodcuer Harvey Weinstein during his trial in Los Angeles in 2022. He is looking downwards.
Harvey Weinstein in court in Los Angeles. His rape conviction in California is not affected by the New York ruling [Etienne Laurent/Pool via AP Photo]

New York’s highest court has overturned disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 conviction for rape and sexual assault, highlighting the challenges of holding powerful men to account.

The Court of Appeals found on Thursday that the landmark trial was unfair because the judge allowed women whose accusations were not part of the charges Weinstein faced to give evidence in court.

Judge Jenny Rivera called for a new trial following the 4-3 decision.

The ruling does not affect a separate 16-year rape sentence handed down in California, so the 72-year-old will remain behind bars.

Bombshell allegations against the Oscar-winning producer broke into the open in 2017 and led to a flood of allegations against other powerful men as women fought back against sexual violence in what became known as the #MeToo movement.

Three years later, a New York court found Weinstein guilty of sexually assaulting former production assistant Miriam Haley in 2006, and raping aspiring actress Jessica Mann in 2013.

He was jailed for 23 years in a case that was considered a landmark for the #MeToo movement.

Following his conviction, a civil trial awarded $17m to dozens of other women who had accused Weinstein of abuse.

Many of his accusers condemned Thursday’s decision, with actress Ashley Judd calling it “an act of institutional betrayal”.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg signalled it planned to put Weinstein back on trial.

Stinging dissent

At a news conference, Weinstein’s lawyer Arthur Aidala called the ruling “a tremendous victory for every criminal defendant in the state of New York” and said Weinstein was ready to testify in his own defence at a retrial.

“He’s been dying to tell his story from day one,” Aidala said. Weinstein has contended that any sexual activity was consensual.

Any retrial would be overseen by a different judge. The term of the judge in the original trial, James Burke, expired at the end of 2022.

In its ruling on Thursday, the state Court of Appeals said the trial court erred in allowing “testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts” and saying it would permit questions about Weinstein’s “bad behaviour” if he had testified. The producer did not take the stand in his own defence.

In a stinging dissent, Judge Madeline Singas wrote that the court was continuing a “disturbing trend of overturning juries’ guilty verdicts in cases involving sexual violence”. She said the ruling came at “the expense and safety of women”.

In another dissent, Judge Anthony Cannataro wrote that the decision was “endangering decades of progress in this incredibly complex and nuanced area of law” regarding sex crimes after centuries of “deeply patriarchal and misogynistic legal tradition”.

The reversal of Weinstein’s conviction is the second major #MeToo setback in recent years.

In 2021, a court in Pennsylvania threw out Bill Cosby’s conviction on sexual assault and he was freed from prison. The Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

Source: News Agencies