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After Weinstein’s case was overturned, New York considers strengthening sex crime prosecutions

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York lawmakers want to change the legal standard Harvey Weinstein used to get his rape conviction overturned, proposing a bill to strengthen sexual assault prosecutions after the disgraced movie mogul’s case was tossed.

The state’s highest court late last month threw out Weinstein’s conviction in a ruling that said a trial judge erroneously allowed women to testify about allegations that weren’t part of his criminal charges.

Now, a group of state lawmakers is pushing a proposal to explicitly allow evidence of prior sexual offenses in sex crimes cases, while also giving judges discretion to bar the testimony if it would create “undue prejudice” against a defendant.

“In sexual assault cases, which typically rely on testimony of the survivor, it is essential and critical. It allows a perpetrator’s pattern of behavior to be presented in court,” Assemblymember Amy Paulin, a Democrat sponsoring the bill, said at a news conference for the legislation in Manhattan on Thursday.

New York does allow such evidence to be used in some instances, such as to prove a motive, in a standard set by legal precedent. But Deputy Senate Leader Michael Gianaris, another sponsor, said the rule should be clarified in state law after the Weinstein decision.

The change would put New York in line with similar standards adopted at the federal level and in more than a dozen states, Paulin said.

“Sexual assault survivors who come forward are rarely the only victims of their abusers,” Tarale Wulff, a model who testified against Weinstein but wasn’t part of underlying criminal charges against him, said at the news conference.

“When there are multiple victims of sexual assault, their voices should be heard together and collectively,” she said.

Weinstein, 72, has denied the New York charges. He was charged with raping an aspiring actor in 2013 and sexually assaulting a production assistant in 2006. His conviction in 2020 was a key moment in the #MeToo movement, a reckoning with sexual misconduct in American society.

New York prosecutors want to retry Weinstein in September. He has also been convicted of rape in California and sentenced to 16 years in prison there. He is currently jailed in New York.

The bill has drawn early criticism from the Legal Aid Society. Amanda Jack, a policy director at the group, said the proposal is overly broad and will “promote the troubling assumption that defendants have an apparent propensity to commit the crime at trial if they have committed a similar crime in the past.”

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