The Weinstein conviction and sentencing are a milestone for women’s rights

The fight for freedom from sexual violence, coercion, and harassment recently passed a milestone with the conviction of Harvey Weinstein on two felony sex assault charges, this February 24, 2020. Today it was announced that he was sentenced to 23 years in prison for his crimes against several scores of women. WoLF celebrates the verdict and hopes that more men will be held similarly accountable.

The verdict was not ideal given that the jury failed to convict Weinstein on the charge of predatory sexual assault. Still, it represents a significant step forward, as jurors took seriously two incidents of violence for which prosecutors brought charges, and ignored the defense’s misogynist arguments that the women allowed themselves to be abused for a hope of career advancement.  

The trial pitted traumatized victims against a thousand-year-old propaganda campaign that has denied the ubiquity of sexual violence against women, by painting victims who go public as “whores”—a strategy that has encouraged women’s silence.  

Weinstein was convicted of a criminal sexual act in the first degree, and third-degree rape. It is well worth thinking about what this means, in particular, under the sentencing standards of the state of New York:

A person is guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree when he or she engages in oral sexual conduct or anal sexual conduct with another person:

1. By forcible compulsion; or

2. Who is incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless; or

3. Who is less than eleven years old; or

4. Who is less than thirteen years old and the actor is eighteen years old or more.

A person is guilty of rape in the third degree when:

1. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person who is incapable of consent by reason of some factor other than being less than seventeen years old;

2. Being twenty-one years old or more, he or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person less than seventeen years old; or

3. He or she engages in sexual intercourse with another person without such person’s consent where such lack of consent is by reason of some factor other than incapacity to consent.

At his sentencing hearing on March 11, 2020, Weinstein stated that he felt “remorse for this situation.” But he also argued that men are being accused of “things that none of us understood.” “Thousands of men are losing due process. I’m worried about this country,” he said. “I’m totally confused. I think men are confused about these issues.” By making these remarks, Weinstein revealed himself to be the villainous creature that most of us already knew him to be.

A criminal sexual act in the first degree is, by law, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. On that charge the judge imposed 20 years, which is nearly the maximum. Rape in the third degree is, by law, punishable by up to four years in prison. On that charge the judge imposed 3 years—again, nearly the maximum allowed by law. The judge also imposed the sentences to run consecutively (in other words, one sentence will follow the other). This is why the total sentence imposed is 23 years.

Generally speaking, sentences imposed on felony convictions in New York are “indeterminate,” which is to say that Mr. Weinstein will likely one day be eligible for parole. At this time it isn’t immediately clear when he will be eligible for parole, because state law requires the judge to specify the minimum date that Weinstein will be eligible, and because the actual judgment of sentence document has not been made publicly available. Regardless, the law requires him to serve at least 1/3 of the overall sentence.  This means that the latest he can be considered to be eligible for parole is approximately seven and a half years from now.

Whenever he is eligible for parole, the decision whether to release him will be made by a state parole board, which is required to consider not only good conduct in prison, but also whether “there is a reasonable probability that, if such inmate is released, he will live and remain at liberty without violating the law,” and whether “his release is not incompatible with the welfare of society and will not so deprecate the seriousness of his crime as to undermine respect for law.”

Under all of the circumstances, it seems unlikely that Harvey Weinstein will see the light of day any time soon.