What the overturning of Harvey Weinstein’s landmark 2020 rape conviction actually means.

New York's highest court has reversed the 2020 rape conviction of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and mandated a retrial.

The decision is a huge blow to the #MeToo movement, which kicked off in 2017 after several women came forward and accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Watch: Ambra Battilano secretly recorded Harvey Weinstein in 2015. Post continues below.

Video via Channel 9.

What was Harvey Weinstein convicted of?

In October 2017, a groundbreaking article by The New York Times revealed that Harvey Weinstein had reached settlements with at least eight women who had accused him of sexual misconduct spanning several decades. 

The article included actress Ashley Judd's public allegation that Weinstein had propositioned her in 1997. This revelation triggered an outpouring of similar accusations from women, leading to the widespread emergence of the #MeToo movement. 

The movement aimed to hold influential figures accountable for sexual misconduct, including prominent celebrities.

On May 25, 2018, Weinstein was taken into custody and charged with first- and third-degree rape involving one victim, as well as first-degree criminal sex act with another woman. 


His trial concluded in February 2020, resulting in convictions for two felonies: criminal sexual assault and third-degree rape. However, the jury acquitted him of the two most serious charges of predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape.

Why was his conviction overturned?

In a close 4-3 decision, the New York State Court of Appeals determined that Judge James Burke, presiding over Weinstein's 2020 trial in Manhattan, "erroneously" permitted testimony from three women whose allegations were unrelated to the case to be introduced as evidence.

Judge Burke then "compounded that error" by allowing Weinstein to be questioned about the women's accusations on the witness stand if he chose to testify. 

Additionally, he permitted the introduction of "numerous" other allegations of misconduct against Weinstein, presenting him in a "highly prejudicial light."

In 2020, Lauren Young, Dawn Dunning, and Tarale Wulff testified about their experiences with Weinstein, leveraging a state law that enables the introduction of "prior bad acts" to highlight behavioural patterns.

"The remedy for these egregious errors is a new trial," the appeals court said.

"It is an abuse of judicial discretion to permit untested allegations of nothing more than bad behaviour that destroy a defendant’s character but shed no light on their credibility as related to the criminal charges lodged against them," said the court's majority.

Judge Madeline Singas argued that the majority was downplaying the facts to fit a narrative of conflicting testimonies and contributing to a troubling pattern of overturning jury convictions in sexual violence cases. She accused her fellow judges of allowing perpetrators to evade responsibility.

Weinstein's attorney, Arthur Aidala, emphasised that the diligent efforts of the former Hollywood mogul's legal team had paid off, labelling the ruling as "a tremendous victory for every criminal defendant in the state of New York."


What does this mean for Harvey Weinstein?

Despite the outcome, Weinstein, now 72 years old, remains behind bars, and his status as a convicted rapist remains unchanged. 

In a different legal proceeding, he faced a rape conviction in California, resulting in a 16-year jail sentence in February 2023.

What happens next?

The ruling has once again brought attention to America's issue of abuse by influential men, one that kicked off in 2017 when numerous women courageously spoke out and accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct.

Accusations against the studio mogul, known for producing Oscar-winning films like Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love, catalysed the #MeToo movement.

Numerous women, including Judd and Uma Thurman, bravely stepped forward to share their experiences of abuse at Weinstein's hands.

While Thursday's ruling (Friday AEDT) is a setback for #MeToo advocates, the court clarified that it was due to legal technicalities and does not absolve Weinstein of his actions.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said it plans to pursue a retrial of Weinstein, potentially requiring his accusers to once again recount their experiences on the witness stand.

Feature Image: Getty.