Legal Aid Society Opposes Bill To Strengthen Prosecutions In Wake Of Weinstein Ruling

The New York Legal Aid Society and other criminal defense groups are urging state lawmakers not to rush through legislation aimed at closing a loophole that led to Harvey Weinstein’s horrific conviction being overturned. 

The groups argue that the proposed bill, which would allow testimony about a defendant’s alleged prior sexual offenses, even if not charged, is “a reflexive and dangerous approach.”

In a memo of opposition being sent to lawmakers, the groups write, “Harvey Weinstein was a rich movie mogul with unlimited resources, influence and power. But the rule this bill proposes will be used against black and brown people from low-income communities who largely do not have those resources influence or power.”

The legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) comes in response to the Court of Appeals tossing out Weinstein’s conviction last month. The court ruled that a trial judge erroneously allowed testimony from three women about being assaulted by Weinstein even though he wasn’t charged for those acts.

Legal Aid Society policy director Amanda Jack said, “This overly broad proposal would destroy a fundamental protection against wrongful convictions and unjust incarceration.” State Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn), a sexual assault survivor, also opposes the bill, believing it could increase wrongful convictions.

Gianaris acknowledged considering the concerns but ultimately believes sex crimes are unique and justify the proposed rule change, which aligns with federal recommendations and laws in 16 other states.

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