Prosecutors may be reluctant to bring cases to court
Harvey Weinstein could face five to 25 years in prison on sexual assault charges if the latest abuse allegations are tried in criminal court, legal experts said.
The Hollywood producer – who has been accused of sexual harassment and rape by women across the globe – could be charged in New York state for a 2004 assault allegation detailed in a New Yorker investigation published on Tuesday.
Legal experts and law enforcement sources said that the claims described by Lucia Evans, a former aspiring actor, rise to the level of a felony charge under New York laws. However, because a criminal conviction could be difficult to achieve, prosecutors may be reluctant to bring a case in the first place.
Weinstein and his lawyers said he denied many of the allegations in the New York Times and have threatened to sue the newspaper. His spokesperson said he “unequivocally denied” claims of nonconsensual sex in the New Yorker piece, and Weinstein has apologised for causing “pain”, saying he is now in counseling.
Weinstein – who has paid settlements to at least eight women over the years, according to the New York Times – could be charged with a first-degree felony for a “criminal sexual act” for allegedly forcing Evans to perform oral sex on him in 2004 in a New York City office.
“As she objected, Weinstein took his penis out of his pants and pulled her head down on to it,” according to the New Yorker. Evans, in college at the time, told the magazine that she was there for a work meeting. “I said, over and over, ‘I don’t want to do this, stop, don’t.’ I tried to get away,” she recounted. “He’s a big guy. He overpowered me.”
Anne Coughlin, a University of Virginia law professor, said: “When you read her account, it’s heartbreaking and it sounds like a very straightforward description of a forcible encounter and a crime.”
Prosecutors could argue “use of physical force”, which would allow for the sexual act felony charge, the most serious offence available for non-consensual oral sex. While the statute of limitations in many states prevents old rape and assault cases from going forward in criminal court – as was the case with most allegations against the comedian Bill Cosby – in New York, there would be no time limit on bringing a criminal sexual act charge in the Evans case, according to multiple experts.
The odds, however, are still low that the prosecutor with jurisdiction, the Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, will move forward.
“I don’t think he’s going to bend to political pressure,” said Lowell Sidney, a former New York City prosecutor. “As much as what [Weinstein] did is deplorable, I don’t think they are going to charge a crime that is unlikely to result in a conviction.”
Vance has faced significant scrutiny this week for declining to prosecute Weinstein in an alleged groping case, despite audio of the producer in effect admitting it while talking to the model who accused him. When she asked him why he touched her breasts, he responded: “I’m sorry” and “I’m used to it.”
Vance has repeatedly defended his decision to drop the case .
For those allegations centring on Britain, Weinstein could face criminal proceedings under the Sexual Offences Act, according to one expert.
Ben Jones, a barrister who is a specialist in the prosecution of sexual offences at St John’s Buildings, said that could apply to the cases involving Romola Garai, Liza Campbell, and Laura Madden, where it is alleged they “managed to escape an advance before actually being touched”.
He said: “On an individual basis, these cases could carry a 26-week sentence, longer if there were more victims, and longer if there was a profound effect on the victim.”
Many claims levelled at Bill Cosby fell outside the statute of limitations, but New York rules differ