Will the Weinstein Verdict Change Sexual Assault Prosecutions?Published: Apr 06, 2020 in Sex Crimes
In February 2020, a jury found Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein guilty of two felony counts: criminal sexual assault in the first degree and rape in the third degree. The jury determined Weinstein would be confined to custody immediately while awaiting sentencing. In March, the judge sentenced him to 23 years in prison, and on March 18th, he was transferred to a state prison in New York.
The Weinstein verdict was a relief to many and stunning to others. More than 100 women came forward with statements of sexual misconduct allegedly perpetrated by Weinstein. Allegations included everything from inappropriate comments, quid pro quo suggestions, threats against their careers, and non-consensual touching to forcible rape. Whatever one’s thoughts on the outcome of the case, it’s legitimate to ask whether sexual assault prosecutions will change going forward?
The Weinstein Case Relied Heavily on Women’s Testimony
Prosecutors have discretion in whether to bring charges involving sexual assault or other sex offenses. They often consider cases built predominantly on one person’s testimony to be weak. However, that might be changing. There are several aspects to the Weinstein case and verdict that could impact future sexual assault prosecutions.
The Weinstein verdict was based on personal testimony. Though over 100 women came forward regarding inappropriate interactions with Weinstein, the charges against him involved three women who claim he assaulted them within the previous 30 years. The five counts were based on the assaults of these three women, while three other women testified at trial as witnesses of his previous bad behavior. There was very little evidence, and certainly no DNA evidence from the time. The case came down to whether the jurors believed the women.
The prosecution tried to dismantle myths about how sexual assault victims behave. A complexity in the Weinstein case was that some victims continued to have professional or personal relationships with him after the assaults. The prosecution’s effort to address this might be a sign that the legal industry and public, in general, are learning that sexual assault is more complicated than previously believed.
The prosecution addressed the difference between force and coercion. In the past, prosecutors preferred to pursue cases in which they could prove a defendant used force to overcome the victim. However, in many circumstances, coercion can rise to the level of sexual assault or rape, even if it’s harder to establish in court. The Weinstein verdict included rape in the third degree, which required Weinstein to lack consent but not use force. The jury believed that his use of coercion was enough.
Sex crime lawyers need to be aware that with evolving attitudes and more knowledge regarding sexual assault in society, jurors might be more likely to believe a victim’s story. And with more understanding and trusting jurors, prosecutors might be more likely to bring a sexual assault case that lacks other evidence, such as DNA, proof of force, or witnesses.
The Weinstein Case Was Unique
While there is the possibility that prosecutors might become bolder in pursuing sexual assault charges, it’s important to remember that the Weinstein case was unique. It involved someone with a long, thriving Hollywood career. Everyone knew who Weinstein was—a media mogul who could make or break careers. The case also involved a flood of accusations and in-depth investigations in major publications. The allegations against Weinstein didn’t involve one alleged assault. Instead, they outlined a lifetime of predatory and violent sexual behavior against women.
Most sexual assault cases aren’t high-profile news stories involving a celebrity or a pattern of criminal sexual behavior. Most cases involve accusations by one person against another private individual. Because the Weinstein verdict came at the end of a long, distinct, and public case, it won’t necessarily translate to changes in how sexual assaults are prosecuted locally.
If You’ve Been Accused of Sexual Assault, Call The Law Offices of Ned Barnett Today
It might take years to discover whether the Weinstein verdict and other high-profile sexual assault cases change sexual assault prosecutions across the country. They have the potential to. But how and when prosecutors pursue allegations of sex crimes depends on several factors, including the credibility of the alleged victim, the evidence, attitudes and beliefs in the region, politics, and more.