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Senate passes bill to tighten law used to overturn Harvey Weinstein conviction

Evidence of previous sexual offences may be heard in sex crimes cases, even not directly pertaining to the crime

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New York-Sexual Assault Evidence

The New York state senate on Wednesday passed a bill to explicitly allow evidence of prior sexual offences in sex crimes cases, a move to change the legal standard Harvey Weinstein used to overturn his rape conviction.

The senate approved the bill 55-4. The proposal now moves to the state assembly.

Legislators began pushing the measure weeks after the state’s high court threw out Weinstein’s conviction in a ruling that found a trial judge unfairly allowed women to testify about assault allegations that were not part of the criminal charges against him.

The state does allow such evidence in limited instances, such as to prove a motive or plan, but the rules are determined by existing legal precedent rather than state law.

In early May, Weinstein made the first appearance since his 2020 rape conviction after it was overturned by an appeals court last week. (David Dee Delgado/Pool Photo via AP)

The bill would make clear that evidence of previous sexual offences can be heard in sex crime cases, even if those prior allegations are not directly part of the underlying criminal charges. The proposal would also give judges discretion not to allow such testimony if it would create “undue prejudice” against a defendant.

The bill’s sponsors said its language is similar to a standard used by the federal government and more than a dozen other states.

The Legal Aid Society, which provides free legal representation, has warned that the proposal would confuse jurors by allowing too much outside evidence at trials and result in unfair convictions.

Weinstein has denied the charges against him in New York, which include allegedly raping an aspiring actor and sexually assaulting a production assistant.

His 2020 conviction was a major moment in the #MeToo movement. He is expected to be retried in September.

The disgraced movie mogul has separately been convicted of rape in California and sentenced to 16 years in prison there. He remains jailed in New York.

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