A New York jury on Monday found producer Harvey Weinstein guilty on two sex crimes charges, including rape in the third degree.
However, the jury acquitted Weinstein on two counts of predatory sexual assault, the most serious charges he faced.
The rape conviction stems from testimony by Jessica Mann, who said that Weinstein raped her in 2013, and carries a maximum sentence of four years. Weinstein was also convicted on one count of a criminal sexual act, stemming from Miriam Haley’s testimony that he forcibly performed oral sex on her in 2006. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. He was not found guilty of rape in the first degree, which also would have carried a maximum 25-year sentence.
In addition to these charges, prosecutors brought counts of predatory sexual assault, which required them to prove that Weinstein had a history of assaulting women. To do so, they called as a witness actress Annabella Sciorra, who testified that Weinstein had raped her in the 1990s. Her report was beyond the statute of limitations on its own, but together with Haley’s and Mann’s testimony, it could be used to establish a pattern. If convicted on the predatory sexual assault charges, Weinstein could have been sentenced to life in prison.
Ultimately, however, a jury did not find Sciorra’s testimony sufficient to convict. Jury deliberations are secret, and it’s impossible to know the jurors’ thought processes, but questions sent by the jury to the judge last week showed an intense focus on Sciorra’s testimony.
The jury’s lengthy deliberations and acquittal on the most severe charges came as a surprise to anyone who was expecting a swift and decisive conviction for Weinstein. The mogul has been accused of sexual misconduct or assault by more than 100 women since the New York Times and the New Yorker wrote exposés about the allegations against him more than two years ago.
But Weinstein still faces rape and sexual battery charges in Los Angeles and many civil lawsuits. And experts say the fact that prosecutors chose to bring the charges at all — even though they didn’t get a conviction on all of them — could have an impact on how sexual assault is handled by the criminal justice system and understood by the public.
Weinstein’s trial is momentous even though he was acquitted on some counts
Though at least 100 women have said that Weinstein harassed or assaulted them, the producer was charged in New York in connection with just three women: Mann, Haley, and Sciorra.
The testimony of Mann and Haley, in particular, was seen as groundbreaking by legal experts because the women’s stories challenged commonly held myths about how sexual assault survivors behave. In particular, the women describe maintaining ongoing professional or personal relationships with Weinstein after he attacked them.
Experts — including the forensic psychologist called by the prosecution — point out that it’s common for survivors to maintain a relationship with an attacker after a sexual assault. Weinstein’s defense attorneys, however, tried to use Mann’s and Haley’s ongoing contact with the producer to argue that any contact with him had been consensual. The mere prospect of an argument like this has kept prosecutors in the past from bringing cases like Mann’s and Haley’s to trial.
The jury didn’t buy it, however, and Weinstein will serve prison time. He will face a minimum of five years for the criminal sexual act charge. Following the verdict Monday, he was sent immediately back to jail to await sentencing.
Ultimately, Sciorra’s testimony was the sticking point for jurors. During the deliberation process, they devoted a lot of time to the actress’s report, asking that her cross-examination be read back to them, along with testimony by actress Rosie Perez, who said that Sciorra told her in the 1990s that Weinstein had raped her.
The fact that Weinstein was not convicted on predatory sexual assault charges is a blow to those who hoped to see him face the most serious criminal consequences possible. Many of the allegations against him, like Sciorra’s, are beyond the statute of limitations in many states — the women involved have said they kept quiet for years, even decades, because they feared career damage or retaliation by Weinstein. Some finally felt safe coming forward only after exposés of the allegations against Weinstein in the New York Times and the New Yorker, and the resulting rise of the Me Too movement.
A guilty verdict on the predatory sexual assault charges would have represented a consequence for Weinstein on at least one of these older allegations, as well as confirmation in a court of law of something many women have come forward to say: that Weinstein had a pattern of sexual violence going back decades.
But even without that confirmation, the trial is still groundbreaking, experts say.
“It’s important that the prosecutors pursued this case,” even though they knew they would have to contend with misconceptions about how survivors behave after they are attacked, former assistant US attorney and law professor Cheryl Bader told Vox last week.
And prosecutors should be taking cases like the one against Weinstein even if they’re not guaranteed a win, Michelle Madden Dempsey, a former prosecutor and law professor at Villanova University, told Vox. By taking such cases forward, “they allow not only the victims to have a day in court and the possibility that a perpetrator will be brought to justice, but they allow the broader community to engage in conversations about what behavior is appropriate.”
Weinstein’s New York trial may be over, but the conversations around his crimes and the appropriate consequences for them are sure to continue for years to come.