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An appeals court in New York has overturned the 2020 rape conviction against former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. In a 4-3 decision on Thursday, justices decided that the high-profile trial was prejudiced against the defendant.

The Miramax studio boss, who helped make Oscar winners such as ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’, was found guilty of forcibly performing oral sex on a production assistant in 2006 and third-degree rape of an aspiring actress in 2013. He was sentenced to 23 years behind bars and sent to the Mohawk Correctional Facility, about 100 miles (160km) northwest of Albany, New York.

“The trial court erroneously admitted testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts against persons other than the complainants of the underlying crimes,” the court’s decision said. “The remedy for these egregious errors is a new trial.”

The testimonies were “untested allegations of nothing more than bad behavior that destroys a defendant’s character but sheds no light on their credibility as related to the criminal charges [against Weinstein]” and amounted to “an abuse of judicial discretion” by Judge James Burke, the appeals court ruled. 

Weinstein, 72, has maintained his innocence and argued that any sexual activity was consensual. He will remain imprisoned, however, because of another rape conviction in Los Angeles in 2022, which earned him a 16-year sentence.

Allegations against Weinstein launched the #MeToo movement in the US, with dozens of women coming forth to accuse the powerful producer. 

At a hearing in February, Weinstein’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, argued that Judge Burke had turned the trial into a “Get Harvey” spectacle. Burke’s decision to allow testimony from women whose allegations weren’t part of the case figured in Weinstein’s decision not to take the witness stand even though he was “begging to tell his side of the story.”

Aidala also brought up Burke’s decision not to remove a juror who had written a novel involving predatory older men, which he claimed showed bias in Weinstein’s case. Burke retired from the bench in 2022. 

Appellate Chief Steven Wu, arguing for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, countered that the jury was not confused because it acquitted Weinstein on the most serious charges – two counts of predatory sexual assault and a first-degree rape charge involving actress Annabella Sciorra.

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