Former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein on Monday launched an appeal against his conviction for sexual assault and rape, alleging that the trial judge made several errors that denied him an impartial jury, Reuters reported. Weinstein’s counsel demanded he be granted a new trial.
Weinstein, 69, was sentenced in March last year by Justice James Burke of Manhattan criminal court to 23 years in prison for assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping former aspiring actress Jessica Mann.
His conviction was seen as a watershed moment in the #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment.
Weinstein has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and has vowed to clear his name. The appeal filed on Monday in New York State Supreme Court signals the start of his attempts to have his conviction quashed.
The former producer made seven arguments in his appeal. In one argument, the lawyers said the trial was “tainted by a single juror who demonstrated a strong and disqualifying bias in favour of the prosecution”, reported the BBC.
His lawyers also argued that he was denied a presumption of innocence when Justice Burke allowed the jury to hear testimony from three women who alleged Weinstein assaulted them even though their accusations did not result in a criminal charge.
During the trial, the three women had described what prosecutors characterised as Weinstein’s signature pattern of behavior: luring women to hotel rooms or his apartment to discuss film roles, then assaulting them. Weinstein’s lawyers had asked the judge to bar two of the three from testifying.
Weinstein said the third-degree rape charge should be dismissed because the alleged misconduct occurred too long ago. Instead, a new trial should concern a single count of first-degree criminal sexual act, he argued.
“We will argue that the trial judge disregarded well accepted and fundamental principles of New York law and violated Mr Weinstein’s constitutional rights,” Weinstein’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, told BBC. “We have the utmost confidence that the Appellate Division will correct these mistakes and send this case back before a different judge.”
Even if his conviction were overturned, Weinstein still faces charges including forcible rape in Los Angeles involving five alleged victims from 2004 to 2013. Weinstein faces up to 140 years in prison if convicted in that case.
He is currently being held in a maximum-security prison in New York state. He had tested positive for the coronavirus on March 23, 2020.
The allegations of sexual assault against Weinstein were first reported by The New York Times and The New Yorker in 2017, which led to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. The movements sought to expose sexual harassment and assault, especially at the workplace.
Since the allegations against Weinstein became public, several people from within the American film industry and outside accused actors and directors such as Dustin Hoffman, Brett Ratner, Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Seacrest, Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman of misconduct.