Harvey Weinstein rape conviction overturned by N.Y. court; California conviction stays

A man in dark suit and tie, with other people behind him
Former film producer Harvey Weinstein arrives at a Manhattan courthouse in February 2020.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
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In a dramatic reversal of the nation’s landmark #MeToo trial, a New York appeals court on Thursday overturned the sex assault conviction of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The state appeals court found, in a 4-3 decision, that the judge who presided over Weinstein’s 2020 trial prejudiced his case by allowing four women who said Weinstein had assaulted them to serve as witnesses even though their allegations were not a part of the case.

The trial judge also made a mistake, the court ruled, in ruling prosecutors could cross-examine Weinstein about uncharged and decades-old allegations if he decided to testify.


“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 lodged against them,” Judge Jenny Rivera wrote for the majority.

The predominantly female panel of judges ordered a new trial, arguing that the “synergistic effect of these errors was not harmless.”

“The only evidence against defendant was the complainants’ testimony, and the result of the court’s rulings, on the one hand, was to bolster their credibility and diminish defendant’s character before the jury,” the court added.

Women who accused Weinstein in the past moved swiftly to condemn the decision.

Actress Ashley Judd called the decision “an act of institutional betrayal.” Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the filmmaker and wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, said it was “a very sad day for countless women who suffered at the hands of a serial predator.”

Gov. Newsom also weighed in.

“Harvey Weinstein is a stone-cold predator, a rapist, twice convicted. Not once. Twice,” Newsom said Thursday morning during a news conference outside Sacramento.

“Those that seek to somehow exonerate or explain away Harvey Weinstein’s behavior should also be ashamed of themselves,” he added. “He should never see the light of day. Period. Full stop.”


When Weinstein was first convicted in New York, the verdict was celebrated as a landmark win in the sweeping #MeToo movement that sought to hold men accountable for their sexual harassment and abuse of women.

Weinstein, alongside his brother Bob, created a show business empire through their entertainment company Miramax, revolutionizing the movie industry as they marketed independent films such as “sex, lies and videotape,” “Pulp Fiction” and the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” into box-office hits.

Along the way, there were whispers throughout the entertainment industry that Weinstein was a sexual predator. The allegations finally became public in October 2017, when accounts of sexual abuse from women who dealt with Weinstein over the years emerged after investigations by the New York Times and the New Yorker.

The mogul denied the claims. But the accusations continued to multiply and dozens of women came forward.

Outside the Manhattan criminal courthouse Thursday, Weinstein’s legal team celebrated the ruling.

“From the bottom of our hearts, from our collective hundreds of years of experience, we knew that Harvey Weinstein did not get a fair trial,” his lead attorney, Arthur Aidala, said. “There are some people who are unpopular in society, but we still have to apply the law fairly.”


The ruling undermined the will of the jurors in the case, Judge Madeline Singas wrote for the court’s dissenting opinion.

“This Court has continued a disturbing trend of overturning juries’ guilty verdicts in cases involving sexual violence,” Singas wrote.

Singas argued that the court whitewashed facts to conform to a he-said/she-said narrative, ignored evidence of Weinstein’s manipulation and premeditation and failed to recognize the jury was entitled to consider the defendant’s alleged previous assaults.

Weinstein is also convicted of rape in California, so the New York ruling will have no practical effect on his imprisonment.

Gloria Allred, the attorney who represented the prosecution’s key witness in the New York case, Mimi Haley, said the court’s decision was a “significant step backwards for the ‘Me Too’ movement.”

“Although victims have lost this battle, they have not lost the war,” Allred said, adding that Haley would consider testifying in another trial. ”


Emily Tuttle, deputy director of communications and senior advisor for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said it would “do everything in our power to retry this case.”

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, said Douglas H. Wigdor, an attorney who has represented eight Weinstein accusers, including two witnesses in his New York criminal trial. .

“The jury was instructed on the relevance of this testimony,” Wigdor said. “Overturning the verdict is tragic in that it will require the victims to endure yet another trial.”

Courts in California have long allowed the use of witnesses who offer allegations of prior bad acts.

“Prior bad acts evidence can be controversial, and the slim majority of appellate judges [in this case] ruled that the testimony of the other victims was prejudicial because their conduct was not charged,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who is president of West Coast Trial Lawyers.

“Jurors may not believe the testimony of one victim, but it’s hard for them to reject the testimony of multiple victims who tell the same story,” Rahmani added.


The Miramax co-founder has been serving a 23-year sentence since he was convicted in 2020 of rape and a felony sex crime after allegedly assaulting former production assistant Haley and once-aspiring actress Jessica Mann.

Weinstein, who has denied all wrongdoing, appealed in 2021, citing a series of issues, including errors at trial.

In their 160-page appeal, Weinstein’s legal team attacked the credibility of the six women who testified at his 2020 trial in lower Manhattan and questioned why some of them stayed in contact with the mogul, and even continued having sex with him, after the alleged crimes. Most of the women’s allegations were corroborated on the stand by others who were told about the assaults around the time they were alleged to have occurred.

In late 2022, a Los Angeles jury also convicted Weinstein of one count of sexual assault in connection with a 2013 attack on a woman inside a Beverly Hills hotel. Weinstein had been charged with sexual assault or misconduct against five women in that case, including Siebel Newsom, but jurors deadlocked or acquitted on the rest of the charges.

He was sentenced to 16 years in prison for that conviction, with the time to be served concurrently with his New York sentence.

Weinstein has also appealed the Los Angeles conviction, again taking aim at the use of testimony from so-called prior bad acts witnesses, who accused him of sexual misconduct that had not been criminally charged in Los Angeles.


LA Dist Atty. George Gascón told The Times he felt “very comfortable” the California conviction would stand.

“Our case against Mr. Weinstein is very solid,” Gascón said. “We didn’t use the evidence New York did. The California law is strong when comes to this kind of evidence.”

David Ring, an attorney representing Jane Doe 1 in Weinstein’s Los Angeles criminal case, said he was disappointed in Thursday’s ruling but confident Weinstein’s Los Angeles conviction would be upheld.

“As the only victim who has now obtained a criminal conviction against Weinstein, she will continue to stand tall and do whatever necessary to obtain justice not only for herself but for all victims,” Ring said.

One of Weinstein’s defense attorneys in his Los Angeles case, Mark Werksman, celebrated the New York ruling as “a great outcome and the right result.”

“We faced the same fundamental unfairness in the Los Angeles case, where the judge let the jury hear about four uncharged allegations of sexual assault,” Werksman said. “Harvey was subjected to a fire hose of uncharged and incredible allegations, which destroyed his right to a fair trial on the charges in the indictment. The case here should be reversed for the same reasons the New York case was reversed.”


California law, however, allows accusers to testify as witnesses even if their own cases never resulted in charges.

The testimony is admissible due to a change in California evidence law in 1996 that allows witnesses to demonstrate an alleged pattern of behavior or propensity to commit a crime, said Dmitry Gorin, a former L.A. sex-crimes prosecutor. Before the change, California’s law was extremely narrow like New York’s, he said.

Now, prosecutors’ use of prior bad acts testimony in California is so prevalent that police will still investigate sexual assault allegations that cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations because they can still be used as evidence if an allegation that can be prosecuted is ever made.

“Very, very few prior bad acts appeals succeed in California,” Gorin said. “The law on admitting prior sexual assault evidence in California is very broad, and the judge’s decision to let that evidence in can be challenged as an abuse of discretion.”

While New York and California have different rules governing testimony in sexual assault cases, where often victims don’t come forward until long after the statute of limitations has run out, some legal experts say New York’s rules provide a needed layer of protection for defendants.

“You could think of New York as a dinosaur, but I think of it as New York being very vigilant of protecting the civil rights of defendants,” said Daniel Medwed, a professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University who is a former criminal appellate attorney in New York.


“It’s a traditional view, maybe it’s a lingering civil libertarian view that the jury punishes someone not for who they are alleged to be, but what they’ve done in this case,” Medwed added. “Loosening the rules of evidence could be a slippery slope to an erosion of all our rights.”

Times staff writers James Queally and Christi Carras contributed to this report.