Judges raise questions about NY conviction

December 16, 2021
Harvey Weinstein arrives in a wheelchair to an arraignment hearing on July 21, 2021, in Los Angeles, where he pleaded not guilty to 11 sex-crime charges, in image taken from KABC pool video.
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A New York court took prosecutors to task at the first hearing in Harvey Weinstein’s appeal, raising questions about whether the disgraced movie producer’s 2020 rape conviction could be thrown out.

The role prejudicial evidence played in the charges leveled against the convicted sex offender and former Hollywood mogul was a focal point of the hearing. Several members of the five-judge panel appeared open to considering reversing Weinstein’s conviction and ordering a new trial.

Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels noted that prosecutors had piled on with “incredibly prejudicial” testimony from additional witnesses and that introducing evidence of Weinstein’s churlish behavior amounted to overkill.

“Let’s inflame the jury’s heart by telling them that he beat up his brother during a meeting,” said Manzanet-Daniels, challenging assistant district attorney Valerie Figueredo, who implored the judges to uphold Weinstein’s conviction. “I don’t see how there is a balance there on that.”

“He doesn’t get convicted because he’s a bad guy,” another judge noted, identified by Variety as Justice Judith Gische. “He gets convicted for these particular crimes.”

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The arguments made in the appellate division of New York’s Supreme Court are part of the latest installment in a mixed bag of legal developments for Weinstein, following a Los Angeles judge’s refusal to dismiss his sex-crime case last week. Weinstein’s lawyers argued that the extra testimony essentially put the former studio chief on trial for crimes he wasn’t charged with and hadn’t had an opportunity to defend himself against.

Judge James Burke, the Manhattan judge who presided over Weinstein’s trial last year, allowed prosecutors to bolster their case with testimony from three women who alleged Weinstein also violated them but whose claims did not lead to charges in New York. Burke’s ruling allowing prosecutors to use horror stories from the producer’s past to attack his credibility succeeded in preventing him from taking the witness stand, Weinstein lawyer Barry Kamins told the appellate panel.

“The jury was overwhelmed by such prejudicial, bad evidence,” Kamins said. “This was a trial of Harvey Weinstein’s character. The people were making him out to be a bad person.”

The case against Weinstein in LA:Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty to sex crimes, including forcible rape, in Los Angeles

Weinstein’s legal team told USA TODAY they remain optimistic there is still a chance for justice for their client.

“We are hopeful that after hearing the right and legal arguments that clouded Mr. Weinstein’s New York trial, the appellate court will do what is legally just and support due process,” the lawyers said in a statement.

A decision on the appeal isn’t expected until 2022.

Weinstein, 69, was convicted in February 2020 of a criminal sex act for forcibly performing oral sex on a production assistant in 2006 and rape in the third degree for an attack on an aspiring actress in 2013. He was acquitted of first-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault stemming from actor Annabella Sciorra’s allegations of a mid-1990s rape.

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The verdict was a landmark in the #MeToo movement that was spawned by women coming forward with allegations against Weinstein. He maintains his innocence and contends that any sexual activity was consensual.

Weinstein, who was extradited from a New York state prison in July, is in a Los Angeles county jail awaiting trial, which may not be held until after next summer. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges, which involve five accusers and date between 2004 and 2013. 

Contributing: Edward Segarra and Maria Puente, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press

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