New York High Court Overturns Weinstein Convictions

Last week, the highest court in New York State overturned the convictions of Harvey Weinstein for various sex crimes. Once a famous Hollywood producer, Weinstein allegedly abused his power to demand sex from aspiring actresses and used force when they resisted. The scandal sparked outrage across America and helped fuel the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment. However, Weinstein will get a new trial on the charges against him in New York.

According to the New York Court of Appeals, the trial court should not have allowed three women to testify for the prosecution. These women, who were not the complainants in the case, told the jury that Weinstein had sexually assaulted them as well. In New York, the prosecution cannot use allegations of “prior bad acts” like these to show that a defendant had a propensity for criminality. It may use this type of evidence for certain other purposes, though, such as showing motive or intent. In this case, the prosecution had persuaded the trial court that the testimony would help prove Weinstein’s intent and his understanding of the complainants’ lack of consent. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that this testimony was unnecessary to establish intent. Instead, it served only to show that he had a propensity to commit sex offenses. This violated evidence rules in New York.

The Court of Appeals further explained that the trial court made this problem worse. It allowed Weinstein to be cross-examined about the alleged prior bad acts, as well as other allegations of misconduct. The combination of these errors deprived him of his right to a fair trial. The Court of Appeals thus ordered a new trial in the case.

People who followed the Weinstein scandal may remember that a California jury also convicted him of rape. The New York case does not affect that conviction, which resulted in a 16-year prison sentence. Moreover, California has different rules for “prior bad acts” testimony. It allows the prosecution to present this testimony to show that a defendant has a propensity to commit sex crimes. Thus, Weinstein probably cannot use the same argument to get a new trial in California.

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