New York appeals court overturns Harvey Weinstein's 2020 rape conviction

The disgraced movie producer had been convicted of rape.

ByAaron Katersky ABCNews logo
Friday, April 26, 2024
New York appeals court overturns Harvey Weinstein's 2020 rape conviction
Jim Dolan has more on the overturned conviction and what comes next.

NEW YORK -- The rape conviction of movie producer Harvey Weinstein has been overturned by New York's highest court.

The New York Court of Appeals, in a scathing 4-3 opinion, overturned Weinstein's conviction on sex crimes against three women, finding the trial judge "erroneously admitted testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts against persons other than the complainants of the underlying crimes."

The court said that testimony "served no material non-propensity purpose" and "portrayed defendant in a highly prejudicial light."

The Weinstein team, which was eagerly awaiting a ruling, was not expecting it to be in Weinstein's favor after a succession of rulings in different courts all went against Weinstein.

Robert Boyce, ABC News Contributor, explains what happens next from a legal standpoint.

Weinstein was also convicted of sex offenses in Los Angeles and sentenced to 16 years in prison there.

Because Weinstein is already convicted in California, he will not be released, but instead transferred to the custody of prison authorities in California.

Weinstein, 72, was a well-known, powerful man within the entertainment industry and prosecutors said he abused his power to take advantage of aspiring female actors, like the alleged victims, to coerce them into unwanted sexual encounters. According to the prosecution, the quid pro quo of assisting them with their careers in exchange for sexual favors on demand was both common behavior and a well-known secret throughout the film industry.

An explosive New York Times article in October 2017 reported Weinstein had reached at least eight settlements with women who accused him of sexual misconduct over decades. The story, which featured actress Ashley Judd publicly accusing Weinstein of propositioning her in 1997, sparked an avalanche of accusations from women who came forward with similar accounts and largely kicked off the #MeToo movement, targeting prominent celebrities for sexual misconduct.

Weinstein was arrested on May 25, 2018, and charged with first- and third-degree rape for one victim, and first-degree criminal sex act for another woman. He was found guilty in February 2020 of two felonies -- criminal sexual assault and third-degree rape -- but acquitted of the two most serious charges -- predatory sexual assault. He was also acquitted of first-degree rape.

Prosecutors said the testimony of women other than those whose claims formed the basis of the criminal charges spoke to Weinstein's state of mind to use forcible compulsion. The majority opinion, however, said that eviscerated the time-tested rule against propensity evidence, "which, in criminal cases, serves as a judicial bulwark against a guilty verdict based on supposition rather than proof."

The Manhattan district attorney's office could decide 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," a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

Prosecutors are now reviewing the language of the opinion and must make sure the alleged victims are on board to testify if Weinstein were to be retried.

Attorney Douglas H. Wigdor, who has represented eight Weinstein victims, including two of the Molineux witnesses -- those not pertaining to the crimes charged -- at the New York criminal trial, said in a statement: "Today's decision is a major step back in holding those accountable for acts of sexual violence. Courts routinely admit evidence of other uncharged acts where they assist juries in understanding issues concerning the intent, modus operandi or scheme of the defendant."

He continued, "The jury was instructed on the relevance of this testimony and overturning the verdict is tragic in that it will require the victims to endure yet another trial."

The Court of Appeals decided the evidence of uncharged crimes allowed at trial "was unnecessary" to establish Weinstein's intent and "served only to establish defendant's propensity to commit the crimes charged."

The opinion also said the trial judge, James Burke, abused his discretion when he allowed Weinstein to be cross-examined about the uncharged conduct, ruling it "served no purpose other than to display for the jury defendant's loathsome character."

Actor Ashley Judd spoke out on the overturned conviction.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.