Harvey Weinstein sex crimes conviction overturned
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Harvey Weinstein sex crimes conviction overturned

Top New York court says major errors made in trial that triggered #MeToo movement

Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court in Los Angeles in October 2022 after being extradited from New York to face more sex-related charges. (Photo: Reuters)
Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court in Los Angeles in October 2022 after being extradited from New York to face more sex-related charges. (Photo: Reuters)

NEW YORK - The highest court in New York state has overturned the 2020 sex crimes conviction of former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, in the case that helped trigger the #MeToo movement.

In a 4-3 decision, the state Court of Appeals said the trial judge made a mistake by letting prosecutors introduce testimony from women who claimed that Weinstein assaulted them, even though they were not part of the charges he faced.

The appeals court also said the trial judge compounded the error by letting Weinstein be cross-examined in a way that portrayed him in a “highly prejudicial” light.

“The remedy for these egregious errors is a new trial,” the court said.

The Weinstein case emboldened many other women who had been victims of sexual abuse by powerful figures to come forward with their stories, and the campaign spread beyond the United States as well. It came to be known as the #MeToo movement after the hashtag used online by supporters. 

Weinstein, 71, has been serving a 23-year prison sentence for the conviction.

It will now be up to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — already in the midst of a trial against former president Donald Trump — to decide whether to seek a retrial of Weinstein.

Arthur Aidala, Weinstein’s lawyer, 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.”

Spokespeople for the Manhattan district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was not immediately clear how the decision would affect Weinstein, who is being held in a prison in Rome, New York, 300 kilometres north of New York City. But he is not a free man.

In addition to the possibility that he may be tried again, he was sentenced in 2022 to 16 years in prison in California after being convicted of raping a woman in a Beverly Hills hotel.

Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct by more than 100 women; in New York he was convicted of assaulting two of them. The Court of Appeals decision, which comes more than four years after a New York jury found Weinstein guilty, complicates the disgraced producer’s story and underscores the legal system’s difficulty in delivering redress to those who say they have been the victims of sex crimes.

Judges identified two major issues that led them to overturn the conviction: testimony from four women who told the jury about encounters with Weinstein that were unrelated to the crimes with which he was charged; and the trial judge’s decision to permit prosecutors to question the producer about uncharged allegations — spanning decades — if he decided to testify.

That decision, Weinstein’s lawyers wrote in their appeal, kept their client from testifying in his own defence and, in combination with the testimony from the four women, “destroyed even the semblance of a fair trial”.

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