Understanding the Weinstein indictment and the next steps
According to numerous reports, Harvey Weinstein has been indicted on charges of Rape in the First Degree, Rape in the Third Degree, and Criminal Sexual Act in the First and Third Degrees. The first-degree charges are Class B violent felonies, meaning that they are punishable by a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 25 years in prison. Rape in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.35) applies to cases in which defendants allegedly use forcible compulsion (physical force or the threat of physical force or harm) to engage in non-consensual vaginal intercourse. Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree (Penal Law Section 130.50) applies to cases in which the defendants have allegedly used forcible compulsion to non-consensually penetrate mouths or anuses with their penises. (Thus, the distinction between “Rape” and “Criminal Sexual Act” under New York criminal law is the orifice being penetrated.) The third-degree varieties of these charges most commonly are applied in situations where a person is “incapable of consent,” meaning physically helpless (i.e. asleep or intoxicated). These third-degree charges are Class E felonies without mandatory minimum prison sentences.
It should come as no surprise that Weinstein was indicted given that he was arrested and preliminarily charged with these same crimes. Indeed, an indictment by the grand jury was basically a sure thing once the decision to arrest Weinstein was made. Weinstein could have testified before the grand jury in his own defense but that would have been a tactical mistake. A grand jury presentation in a case like this normally involves a prosecutor simply calling the complainant to testify under oath before the grand jurors about the crime. A defendant being indicted (for any crime, not just rape and sexual assault) does not get to listen to the witnesses testifying against him in the grand jury, nor does his attorney have the right to cross-examine those witnesses or make arguments to the grand jury. However, by testifying before the grand jury, Weinstein would have subjected himself to being cross-examined by a prosecutor under oath. That decision would have locked him into a version of events that he could not later modify or correct for trial. Equally problematically, it would have given the prosecutor an opportunity to hear Weinstein’s trial testimony prior to trial. This would have afforded the prosecutor months (or maybe even years) to prepare a scathing cross-examination for trial after having a “practice round” with him in the grand jury. Given that the odds of prevailing at the grand jury are normally terrible for a defendant – and probably especially so for Weinstein given the publicity surrounding his situation – there was realistically very little for Weinstein to gain from testifying before the grand jury. Most defendants understandably decline to do so.