New York Senate passes bill to tighten legal standard Harvey Weinstein used to toss rape conviction

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to explicitly allow evidence of prior sexual offenses in sex crimes cases, a move to change the legal standard Harvey Weinstein used to overturn his rape conviction.

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 55-4. The proposal now moves to the state Assembly.

Lawmakers began pushing the measure weeks after the state's high court tossed Weinstein's conviction in a ruling that found a trial judge unfairly allowed women to testify about assault allegations that weren't part of the criminal charges against Weinstein.

The state does allow such evidence in limited instances, such as to prove a motive or plan, but the rules are determined by existing legal precedent, rather than state law.

The bill would make clear that evidence of previous sexual offenses can be heard in sex crimes cases, even if those prior allegations are not directly part of the underlying criminal charges. The proposal would also give judges discretion to not allow such testimony if it would create “undue prejudice” against a defendant.

Sponsors of the bill said its language is similar to a standard used by the federal government and more than a dozen other states.

The Legal Aid Society, which provides free legal representation, has warned that the proposal would confuse jurors by allowing too much outside evidence at trials and would result in unfair convictions.

Weinstein has denied the charges against him in New York, which include allegedly raping an aspiring actor and sexually assaulting a production assistant. His 2020 conviction was a major moment in the #MeToo movement. The Manhattan district attorney's office is seeking to retry him as soon as September.

The disgraced movie mogul has separately been convicted of rape in California and sentenced to 16 years in prison there. He remains jailed in New York.