Harvey Weinstein’s Sex Crimes Conviction Is Upheld by New York Court

Antonio G Ginting

A New York appeals court on Thursday upheld Harvey Weinstein’s 2020 conviction on felony sex crimes, increasing the likelihood that the disgraced movie producer will serve a significant portion of his 23-year sentence.

The decision deals a serious blow to Mr. Weinstein, 70, who is also pending trial in Los Angeles, where has been charged with several counts of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation and other sex crimes. A trial date is expected to be set this month.

The New York appellate court’s ruling had been anticipated for months by the state’s legal community, particularly after oral arguments in December, when members of the five-judge panel that heard the case seemed skeptical of some decisions made by the trial judge.

But the decision Thursday was unanimous and clear, delivering a seal of approval to the highest-profile trial of the #MeToo era and affirming the use of additional victims’ voices to persecute sex crimes.

“We reject the defendant’s arguments, and affirm the conviction in all respects,” wrote Judge Angela M. Mazzarelli, who wrote the opinion for the panel, all of whose members were women.

A lawyer for Mr. Weinstein said that his legal team would ask New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to review the decision. It will not automatically take the case.

“We are obviously disappointed in the court’s decision and look forward to asking the Court of Appeals to review what we believe are substantial meritorious legal issues,” said the lawyer, Barry Kamins. “Mr. Weinstein will continue to pursue all available legal remedies to establish that he did not receive a fair trial.”

Reports of Mr. Weinstein having sexually abused women appeared in The New York Times in fall 2017, leading dozens of others to speak about their own experiences and eventually igniting what became known as the #MeToo movement, a global repudiation of sexual misconduct by powerful men.

The Weinstein case led to a cascade of accusations against other prominent figures, particularly in the workplace, and widespread discussion about the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault.

In the years since, explosive allegations have continued to upend industries and institutions. Just last week, a Southern Baptist Convention report documented decades of abuse within the denomination, which has about 15 million members in the United States. And individual reckonings continue.

Mr. Weinstein was convicted even though two of the women at the heart of the case against him had at times had consensual sex and friendly contact with him, showing that prosecutors and juries may be more open to cases that don’t hinge on so-called “ perfect” victims.

And the panel’s affirmation of his conviction lends credence to witnesses who establish patterns of predatory behavior even if the acts don’t result in charges, a principle that is also likely to be central to the former producer’s Los Angeles trial.

Karen Dunn, a trial lawyer who is a partner at Paul Weiss, a New York law firm, said that the decision would be seen as an affirmation of the movement, and the role of courts and juries in addressing allegations like those against Mr. Weinstein.

“Our judicial system is often the last refuge for victims of sexual abuse, because it is a place where testimony can be heard and credited,” she said. “In this case, the facts exploded into the public eye, and it would have been very hard to imagine an appellate court overturning a verdict on that set of facts.”

Mr. Weinstein was indicted by Manhattan prosecutors in the spring of 2018 and charged with sex crimes for his conduct with women trying to make it in the television and film industry where he was a major power.

His trial, which began in January 2020, represented, in some ways, a gamble for the sitting Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. The charges rested mainly on the allegations of two women, both of maintained contact with Mr. Weinstein after their assaults: Miriam Haley, who said that Mr. Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006, and Jessica Mann, who said he raped her in 2013.

Annabella Sciorra, an actress, also tested that Mr. Weinstein had raped her in the early 1990s, in support of the charge of predatory sexual assault.

Mr. Vance’s prosecutors called on three other women — Dawn Dunning, Lauren Young and Tarale Wulff — who tested that Mr. Weinstein had assaulted them. But Mr. Weinstein was not charged for the behavior they described and their stories were meant to lend context to the allegations of Ms. Haley and Ms. Mann.

In February 2020, a jury found Mr. Weinstein guilty of two felonies: a criminal sexual act in the first degree and third-degree rape. He was acquitted of two charges of predatory sexual assault. The next month, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

On Thursday, Mr. Vance said that the decision of the appeals court was a relief, but added that he had always been confident in the strength of the evidence.

“The trial court issued balanced rulings and by any measure provided the defendant a fair trial,” Mr. Vance said. “Most of all, I am grateful that the appeals court credited the testimony of the women in framing its legal analysis.”

The current Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, added in his own statement that the court had upheld “a monumental conviction that changed the way prosecutors and courts approach complex prosecutions of sexual predators.”

Mr. Weinstein’s lawyers had appealed his conviction in April 2021, arguing that the women who had accused Mr. Weinstein of sexual assaults for which he was not charged should never have been allowed to testify, and that prosecutors had “tried Weinstein’s character, not his conduct.”

They took issue with the admission of testimony from Ms. Sciorra and argued that one of the jurors had been biased against Mr. Weinstein.

Finally, they argued that the trial judge, James Burke, had improperly ruled that if Mr. Weinstein were to testify, prosecutors could ask him about 28 incidents during the preceding three decades, including a tantrum he threw at a hotel restaurant and acts of violence against people who worked for him.

Mr. Weinstein’s lawyers said that Justice Burke’s decision had kept Mr. Weinstein from taking the stand.

But the panel of appellate judges approved of decisions Justice Burke made throughout the proceedings.

Judge Mazzarelli wrote that the testimony of Ms. Dunning, Ms. Young and Ms. Wulff had been key in demonstrating that the producer did not see his victims as “romantic partners or friends,” but that “his goal at all times was to position the women in such a way that he could have sex with them, and that whether the women consented or not was irrelevant to him.”

She rejected Mr. Weinstein’s objections to Ms. Sciorra’s testimony and said that Justice Burke had appropriately found that Mr. Weinstein’s lawyers had failed to establish the juror’s supposed bias.

Judge Mazzarelli seemed to weigh Mr. Weinstein’s arguments about the 28 previous incidents with particular care. She noted that the number the judge permitted may have seemed, at first blush, to be “troublingly” large.

But she said that “all of the material allowed by the court was unquestionably relevant” and that “the unique nature of the instant case required consideration of material not typically encountered in the ordinary case.”

“We are satisfied that, on balance, the court gave careful consideration to the potential prejudice to the defendant, and made a reasoned ruling,” she wrote.

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