The Indignity of Harvey Weinstein's Overturned Conviction

Thursday’s decision prolongs the pain and torture stemming from a chapter in history that has already—for many—been agonizing.

The Indignity of Harvey Weinstein's Overturned Conviction
Credit: zz/John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx

On Thursday morning New York’s highest court delivered a gut-punch to survivors of sexual assault everywhere, by overturning Harvey Weinstein’s sex crimes conviction.

The case had gone to trial primarily based on the allegations of two women, but the judge allowed additional women to be brought to the stand as the prosecutors tried to establish Weinstein’s broader patterns of abuse. The Court of Appeals said the judge should never have allowed the women—who weren’t directly and explicitly related to the case—to testify. 

In criminal trials, the defendant must be judged solely on the precise acts with which they are being charged.

Thursday’s 4-3 decision is a prime example of a judicial system working the way it theoretically should: According to the laws of the land that have—for better or for worse—withstood the test of time. And Weinstein’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, speaking to The New York Times in the minutes after the decision was announced, praised the court for “upholding the most basic principles that a criminal defendant should have in a trial.”

At the same time, it’s imperative that we see this for what it is: a broader story about immense human suffering. Anyone referring to Thursday’s decision as a “tremendous victory”—as Aidala did—is forgetting what’s actually happening here. This is not a cause for celebration.

Yes, the judge failed in his assessment of how to conduct the trial according to the letter of the law, putting the entire case on shaky footing from the outset. But the outcome of that, is that we are—once again—disastrously failing women. Had the trial been watertight, we might not be sitting here today prolonging the pain stemming from a chapter in history that has already been agonizing. 

What happened on Thursday also raises the necessary and overdue question of whether we really ever can—and should—treat and judge individuals based on a limited file of evidence, which gives a select slice of information about who they truly are. Humans don’t work like that. We are complex cocktails of character, and it's that mix that makes humans, well, human. 

The #MeToo movement’s power has shifted culture and perception. And thank goodness. Why shouldn't #MeToo also be a catalyst for examining the shortcomings of an entrenched legal system? 

In her dissent, Judge Madeline Singas wrote that the majority was “whitewashing the facts to conform to a he-said/she-said narrative.” She said that “the majority’s determination perpetuates outdated notions of sexual violence and allows predators to escape accountability.” I couldn’t agree more.

Now, the women who already endured the ordeal of telling their stories of abuse on the witness stand, may be challenged with repeating that experience all over again. I wonder how many judges in favor of Thursday’s decision actually took a moment to imagine what that might feel like. 

Weinstein, meanwhile, remains incarcerated in New York at the Mohawk Correctional Facility. He still insists he’s innocent, but for now, he’ll almost certainly remain behind bars: In 2022, he was convicted in Los Angeles of another rape and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Josie Cox is a journalist, author, broadcaster and public speaker. Her book, WOMEN MONEY POWER: The Rise and Fall of Economic Equality, was released last month.

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