Monday morning, for the second time in about six weeks, the public watched Harvey Weinstein being led into a New York courtroom in handcuffs. At the arraignment, the disgraced film producer pleaded not guilty to a new round of sex crime charges. The indictment, which was handed down by a grand jury last week, accuses Weinstein of attacking women on three separate occasions in Manhattan.
As the New York Times reports, “The indictment says he forced an aspiring actress to give him oral sex in his TriBeCa offices in 2004, raped another woman at a Midtown hotel in 2013, and compelled a third woman to let him give her oral sex in his Manhattan apartment in 2006.” Weinstein was charged with one count of committing a criminal sexual act in the first degree and two counts of felony predatory sexual assault, bringing his total charges thus far to six. Weinstein was previously indicted on sexual assault charges and first surrendered to police in May.
According to reports, the district attorney’s office sought to put him on house arrest in New York City. Lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi argued on Monday that the charges he’s facing now are “substantially more serious.” In fact, if Weinstein is ultimately convicted of predatory sexual assault—a class A2 felony, the most serious class of offenses in New York—he could be sentenced to anywhere between 10 years to life in prison. The judge, however, ruled that the current bail conditions—Weinstein has paid $1 million in cash, has to wear a tracking device, and can’t leave New York or Connecticut—are sufficient.
During a brief press conference outside of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, defense attorney Benjamin Brafman told reporters: “Mr. Weinstein has told me and I have told the court that his primary objective is to clear his name and to come to court when required because that’s the only way he can do that.” Weinstein has denied any wrongdoing.
The criminal case in New York against Weinstein appears to have taken off after two separate bombshell reports from the New York Times and the New Yorker published last year revealing his long-alleged history of abusing women. More than 75 women have since publicly accused him of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape over the last two decades.
Jennifer Becker is a former sex crimes and child abuse prosecutor and the deputy legal director at Legal Momentum. She says Monday morning’s arraignment is “definitely a big first step for the victims” but cautions that the road to justice could be long.
An indictment is simply a grand jury saying that there is reasonable cause to believe that a defendant committed an offense he’s charged with, Becker tells Broadly. “It’s not a finding of guilt or non-guilt, and it really gives the prosecution permission to move forward to trial on these charges. [Weinstein] will still have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial, should he avail himself to his right to a trial, which it sounds like he intends to do.
“It is an early step,” Becker adds. “There is a lot of process that a criminal defendant is owed before trial. There will be some procedure that will have to happen in terms of motions and potential hearings on pieces of evidence before we see a trial, if we see one.”
As Weinstein’s case unfolds, Becker says she’s interested in watching whether it will have any impact on how “fact-finders” understand evidence related to sexual assault. “For many fact-finders, be it judges or juries,” she says, “there are a lot of myths and misconceptions that are widely held in our society about sexual assault, how victims ‘should’ act, even though we know that everyone responds to that trauma differently. It’ll be interesting to see how the #MeToo movement will educate fact-finders to the realities of sexual assault and whether that’ll have an impact on the type of accountability that we see perpetrators face.”
In any case, she continues, the inclusion of such a serious charge like predatory sexual assault speaks volumes. “It definitely sends a powerful message that perpetrators can be held accountable, even sometimes down the road. It also speaks to the power of a movement like the #metoo movement, and speaks to the necessity to have safe and reliable ways to report sexual assault.”