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Court overturns Weinstein sexual assault, rape conviction

Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 conviction for sexual assault and rape has been overturned by New York’s highest court, reopening the landmark case that launched the #MeToo movement.

In a bitterly divided 4-3 decision, the state’s Court of Appeals said the trial judge made a critical mistake by letting women testify that Weinstein assaulted them, even though their accusations were not part of the charges he faced.

The ruling said the judge compounded the error by letting Weinstein be cross-examined on a broad range of “loathsome” conduct, including bullying and fits of anger toward associates, that portrayed him in a “highly prejudicial” light.

“It is an abuse of judicial discretion to permit untested allegations of nothing more than bad behavior that destroys a defendant’s character but sheds no light on their credibility as related to the criminal charges,” Judge Jenny Rivera wrote for the majority.

“The remedy for these egregious errors is a new trial,” she added.

Weinstein has been serving a 23-year sentence in a prison in New York.

The 72-year-old is not expected to be freed immediately, as he also faces a separate 16-year prison term in California after being convicted there last year for the 2013 rape of an actress at a Los Angeles hotel.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose predecessor Cyrus Vance brought the New York case, will decide whether to retry Weinstein.

“We will do everything in our power to retry this case, and remain steadfast in our commitment to survivors of sexual assault,” Emily Tuttle, a spokesperson for Mr Bragg, said.

His office is separately in the middle of a criminal hush money trial against former US President Donald Trump.

Arthur Aidala, a lawyer for Weinstein, described the decision as a victory for his client and any American charged with a crime, “no matter how popular or unpopular they are”.

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sexual encounters with anyone.

‘Disturbing trend’ of verdicts being overturned – dissenting judge

In a sharp dissent, Judge Madeline Singas said the decision “perpetuates outdated notions of sexual violence” and makes holding defendants accountable for sexual assault “significantly more difficult”.

She also accused the majority of whitewashing the facts and continuing a “disturbing trend” of overturning jury verdicts in sexual violence cases.

“New York’s women deserve better,” Judge Singas wrote.

Weinstein’s conviction in New York was considered a milestone for the #MeToo movement, in which women have accused hundreds of men in entertainment, media, politics and other fields of sexual misconduct.

“Today’s decision is a major step back in holding those accountable for acts of sexual violence,” said Douglas Wigdor, a lawyer who represented eight of Weinstein’s accusers.

“It will require the victims to endure yet another trial.”

Harvey Weinstein (L) and his lawyer Arthur Aidala leaving court in January 2020

Weinstein was convicted in February 2020 in Manhattan of sexually assaulting former production assistant Miriam Haley in 2006, and raping aspiring actress Jessica Mann in 2013.

The charges on which he was convicted were first-degree sexual assault and third-degree rape. Jurors acquitted him on other charges.

Some states, including New York, responded to the #MeToo movement by passing laws that let women bring civil cases seeking damages for sexual misconduct that occurred many years earlier even if statutes of limitations had already passed.

Weinstein co-founded the Miramax film studio, whose hit films included “Shakespeare in Love” and “Pulp Fiction.” His own eponymous movie studio filed for bankruptcy in March 2018.

He joins former comedian Bill Cosby among those who have had sexual assault convictions overturned.

Cosby’s 2018 conviction was overturned three years later by Pennsylvania’s highest court.

The majority said a 2005 agreement by prosecutors not to charge Cosby with drugging and assaulting a woman meant he should not have been charged a decade later.


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