Yesterday, a New York jury handed down a victory for the #MeToo movement when it convicted Harvey Weinstein on two felony sexual assault charges: first-degree criminal sexual assault and third-degree rape. Although the jury acquitted Weinstein on the more serious charges of predatory sexual assault, the verdict is still considered a major victory for women who have been forced into non-consensual sexual encounters by powerful men.
Understanding the Harvey Weinstein Verdict
To fully understand the verdict, let’s examine the background. All of the charges stemmed from two sexual encounters; the 2013 rape of actress Jessica Mann, and a 2006 incident in which Weinstein performed forcible oral sex on a production assistant, Miriam Haley.
During the trial prosecutors used the testimony of actress Annabella Sciorra to try and establish that Weinstein was a perpetrator of predatory sexual assault, a serious felony charge. In a moving testimony, Sciorra claimed that Weinstein raped her 27 years ago – laying the foundation for predatory sexual assault charges, which requires that a prior first-degree sexual assault was committed by the defendant.
While Sciorra’s case was not prosecuted because it fell outside of the statute of limitations, using this novel approach required the jury to examine a case within a case – and determine if Sciorra was truly the victim of first-degree rape by Weinstein. Ultimately, however, this strategy did not work for the prosecution and the jury acquitted Weinstein on the PSA counts.
What Did the Jury Decide in the Weinstein Case?
That left two possible charges stemming from the Mann allegations: first-degree or third-degree rape. For a first-degree rape conviction, the jury had to find that Weinstein threatened Mann with bodily harm or physical force. Instead, the jury found that Weinstein committed third-degree non-consensual aggravated rape. This conviction carries a possible sentence of up to 4 years.
There was also a second conviction on the Haley charges, with the jury finding Weinstein guilty of first-degree criminal sexual act, which carries a sentence from 5 to 25 years. The combined maximum sentence Weinstein is facing is up to 29 years. He was immediately taken into custody and transported to Rikers Island to await sentencing.
Weinstein’s legal team plans to appeal the conviction. He will also be extradited to California to face two sets of charges from two women that occurred in 2013.
Holding Sex Abusers Accountable in Civil Court
Because criminal juries must hold defendants to the evidentiary standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” it is often difficult for prosecutors to secure a conviction on the most serious charges, as seen in the Harvey Weinstein case. Even when there is an abundance of evidence pointing to a defendant’s guilt, the criminal justice system requires strict adherence to a very high standard of proof.
However, in the civil justice system, sex abuse victims face a lower standard of proof and are only required to show that there was a “preponderance of the evidence.” This is one reason why victims of sexual assault, rape, and other forms of sex abuse may also choose to file lawsuits against their abusers and secure fair compensation for their serious injuries. At Lanier Law Group, P.A., we’ve been providing compassionate advocacy for sex abuse victims since 1997. If you have suffered losses related to sex abuse, we want to stand by your side and help you fight for justice.
Contact us at (855) 757-4204 or message us online to schedule a free consultation.