Where is Harvey Weinstein now? Appeals court reconsiders New York conviction

Nearly four years after Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sent to prison, New York’s highest court appeared torn in oral arguments Wednesday on whether to overturn the landmark #MeToo-era verdict.

Weinstein’s lawyers urged the state Court of Appeals to throw out the disgraced movie mogul’s 2020 conviction, arguing that the trial judge, James Burke, trampled on his right to a fair trial with rulings in favor of the prosecution who turned the trial into “1-800-GET-HARVEY.»

“It was his character that was on trial. It was not the evidence that was on trial,” Weinstein’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, told the seven-member Albany court.

Weinstein, 71, was convicted of criminal sexual act for forcibly performing oral sex on a television and film production assistant in 2006 and of third-degree rape for assaulting an aspiring actress in 2013. He was convicted to 23 years in prison. Last year he was convicted in Los Angeles of another rape and sentenced to another 16 years in prison.

A lawyer from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, who prosecuted Weinstein’s case in New York, told the appeals court that Burke’s rulings were correct and that the conviction should stand.

Weinstein’s lawyers want a new trial, but only on the criminal sexual act charge. They argue that the rape charge cannot be retried because it involves alleged conduct outside the statute of limitations. Reversing the verdict would reopen a painful chapter in America’s reckoning with sexual misconduct by powerful figures. The Court is unlikely to rule immediately.

If the Court of Appeals rules in Weinstein’s favor, he will remain in prison due to his California conviction. Weinstein did not attend the discussions, but he was reportedly monitoring a live stream from the state prison where he is being held, Mohawk Correctional Facility, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Albany.

The allegations against Weinstein, the powerful and feared studio chief behind Oscar winners like “Pulp Fiction” and “Shakespeare in Love,” ushered in the #MeToo movement. His trial in New York attracted intense publicity, with protesters chanting “rapist” outside the courthouse.

Weinstein maintains his innocence. He maintains that any sexual activity was consensual.

His voice booming at times, Aidala argued that Burke influenced the trial with two key decisions: allowing three women to testify about charges that were not part of the case and giving prosecutors permission to confront him if he testified , about its long history. history of brutal behavior. Aidala also took issue with Burke’s refusal to remove a juror who had written a novel involving predatory older men.

Weinstein had wanted to testify at trial but decided not to because of Burke’s ruling that would have meant answering questions about more than two dozen alleged acts of misconduct dating back four decades, including arguments with his film producer brother and an incident in which he overturned a table in anger, Aidala said.

“We had a defendant begging to tell his side of the story. It’s a case of he said, she said, and he’s saying “that’s not how it happened.” Let me tell you how I did it,’” Aidala argued, adding that evidence of Weinstein’s previous bad behavior “had nothing to do with truth and veracity. He was all ‘he’s a bad guy.'”

Aidala also argued that other defendants in the state are now at risk of having their cases overwhelmed by extraneous evidence because “the floodgates have been opened” by the precedent of Burke’s sentences.

The justices who heard arguments Wednesday oscillated between skepticism and sympathy for Aidala and his counterpart in the district attorney’s office, appellate chief Steven Wu.

Judge Madeline Singas suggested that the circumstances of Weinstein’s case — using his power in Hollywood to have sex with women who sought his help — may have justified Burke’s decision to allow the other accusers to testify.

But Judge Jenny Rivera questioned whether the behavior described by the women exceeds the high legal bar for other accusers to take the stand, meaning that their testimony is evidence of the same motive, opportunity, intent or pattern. or common plan.

“What is unique about a powerful man trying to convince a woman to have sex with him?” Rivera asked.

Betsy Barros, a lower court judge replacing the Court of Appeals due to recusals, appeared alarmed by Burke’s ruling allowing prosecutors to take on Weinstein for unrelated misconduct.

“I don’t think anyone in their right mind would testify” under those circumstances, Barros noted. “So how can it be a fair trial when you are unable to give your part?”

Aidala said that allowing the additional accusers to testify turned Weinstein’s trial “into three more mini-trials,” burdening jurors with the task of deciding not only Weinstein’s guilt or innocence on the charges in question, but even if he committed other alleged crimes that were not part of the case. . Weinstein was acquitted in Los Angeles of charges involving one of the women who testified in New York, Aidala said.

Wu countered that Weinstein’s acquittal of the most serious charges in the Manhattan trial — two counts of predatory sexual assault and a first-degree rape charge stemming from allegations he raped actress Annabella Sciorra in the mid-1990s ’90 – showed that the jurors were paying attention.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who allege sexual assault unless they agree to be named; Sciorra has spoken publicly about his allegations.

Last year the Court of Appeals agreed to take up Weinstein’s case after an intermediate appeals court upheld his conviction. Before the ruling, lower appeals court judges had raised questions about Burke’s conduct during oral arguments. One noted that Burke had let prosecutors amass “incredibly prejudicial testimony” from other witnesses.

Burke’s term expired at the end of 2022. He was not reappointed and is no longer a judge.

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