Harvey Weinstein is known for big Hollywood productions, but it’s a full-on circus around his New York criminal trial regarding sexual abuse. It’s been a steady stream of accusations against the Miramax co-founder in recent years, and the new year kicks off with jury selection and a trial concerning two separate incidents in 2006 and 2013 in New York state.
As the trial was unfolding, the state of California also announced charges against Weinstein, meaning that the circus will only get bigger.
What’s going on?
In short, Weinstein is charged with rape and forced sex acts. More than 80 women have made similar allegations against Weinstein in recent years, making him a rallying cry for the #MeToo movement. A 2017 exposé made dozens of harassment, assault and rape allegations which has led to public scrutiny and a sudden change to Weinstein’s career arc. While he’s faced professional damage, this is his first criminal trial.
Due to his celebrity, the celebrity status of many alleged victims, and the three years of constant press, the trial is already a spectacle. Jury selection began on Jan. 6 with the goal to hear opening statements on Jan. 22. New York is vetting hundreds of potential jurors, but many have pre-formed opinions about the case. Meanwhile, Weinstein showed up to court using a walker due to physical injuries; the judge has scolded Weinstein for texting in the courtroom; and his defense team has sought to have that same judge recused from the case. It’s full of made-for-the-movies drama that distracts people from the severity of the charges.
The goal of jury selection is to find individuals who can make fair and impartial decisions based on the evidence presented in court. Jury selection seeks to eliminate people counter to that, including:
Conflict of interest – Including previous association with plaintiffs, witnesses or defendants, or seeking personal gain from the trial.
Bias – Including people who believe all men accused of sexual assault are guilty, or people who have read newspapers and books about Weinstein and already formed opinions.
Personal conflict – The trial could be traumatic for jurors who have been victim of similar crimes.
These are just a few examples. More media typically means it’s harder to find prospective jurors.
Because Weinstein has been publicly accused of similar issues in the past and because he draws such a bright spotlight, it is difficult to determine if jurors are being honest in their selection and to find jurors who can separate preconceived opinions from what they will learn in the trial.
The defense has already been aggressive, accusing the judge of bias, moving to ban the accusers’ attorney, and motioning to have the trial adjourned due to the California bombshell. Celebrities are often the target of lawsuits, as people seek personal gain from their wealth.
Expected arguments will focus on sexual consent and the reliability of witnesses, especially the reliability of celebrities. A member of the defense team has stressed on cable news that these are actors – asking, essentially, “Is it all an act?”
Get ready for act two
There is a lot to digest. The coming trial will put the matter of his guilt to rest, but not until a jury is selected and the theatrics make way for the witness stand. The allegations are very serious, which is why New York must first establish a serious tone in the courtroom.