It’s a long, long, long way from the glitz and glamour of movie-making in Hollywood and ‘A-List’ parties, but Harvey Weinstein is now back behind bars serving the first day of his 23-year prison term.
The former Hollywood producer was found guilty last month of sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping former aspiring actress Jessica Mann. At the time, the jury acquitted Mr Weinstein of the most serious charges, a single count of first-degree rape as well as two counts of predatory sexual assault, which carried a potential life sentence.
Harvey Weinstein faced a possible maximum sentence of 29 years in prison under New York law, which treats rape and sexual assault almost as seriously as it does murder.
The sentence, comprising of 20 years for a first-degree criminal sex act a three-year sentence for third-degree rape, was handed down in Manhattan criminal court by Justice James Burke, who presided over Weinstein’s trial and who has a reputation for tough sentencing.
The two sentences will run consecutively, meaning that Harvey Weinstein, who is now 67, will have to complete the term imposed for the criminal sex act before serving the rape sentence. It’s understood that he will have to serve at least six-sevenths of the total term, meaning he would not be eligible for parole until he is nearly 87 years old. Mr Weinstein must also register as a sex offender.
In handing down the sentence, Justice Burke remarked: “I will say that although this is a first conviction, it is not a first offense,” in what many see as a subtle nod of acknowledgement of the scores of women, including many prominent Hollywood actresses, who, since his arrest, have come out with their own allegations against Mr Weinstein.
The news of course, is a victory and a milestone for the #Metoo movement and sexual assault survivors everywhere. And more is to come for the former Hollywood heavyweight as the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office begins proceedings to extradite Mr Weinstein to California to face the sexual assault charges that were filed against him in January.
His LA accusers, one of whom, Lauren Young, testified at the New York trial, allege they were sexually assaulted on two consecutive days in 2013. Those charges include forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery by restraint, carry a possible maximum sentence of 28 years in prison.
Mr Weinsten’s defence team have indicated that they will appeal his 23-year prison term – which is not likely to be heard until mid-year, citing evidence that he received an unfair trial due to judicial, media and even jury bias. Mr Weinstein’s lawyers have made no secret of the fact that they felt Justice Burke had was biased, and in fact, they took the extraordinary step early in the jury selection process of asking Justice Burke to recuse himself, arguing that he had made it clear that he believed Weinstein was guilty.
Harsh sentence may assist appeal
Legal experts in the US say that the lengthy sentence may also assist any appeal, because often the greater the sentence, the more scrutiny the underlying conviction is going to receive.
A new era?
That aside, the sentence of 23 years potentially signals a new severity with which the legal system now treats such cases. By comparison, comedian Bill Cosby also a celebrity serial sex offender was sentenced in 2018 to the much lighter punishment of three to 10 years.
After the sentencing of Weinstein, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said in a statement: “We thank the court for imposing a sentence that puts sexual predators and abusive partners in all segments of society on notice. We thank the survivors for their remarkable statements today and indescribable courage over the last two years.”
“Harvey Weinstein deployed nothing less than an army of spies to keep them silent. But they refused to be silent, and they were heard,” the statement also said. “Their words took down a predator and put him behind bars, and gave hope to survivors of sexual violence all across the world.”