Judge James Burke charged Harvey Weinstein’s jury today.
Shortly after deliberations began, the jurors sent a number of questions to the judge. Their list included, “What’s the legal definition for consent?”
The Cosby jurors asked the same question of Judge Steven O’Neill. He responded, “You’re reasonable people; use your common sense.”
So what did Burke say?
……………………. “Use your common sense,”
Because neither NY nor PA define consent in their laws, the judges’ responses were typical. And Weinstein’s lead attorney, Donna Rotunno, didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this question was coming.
She attempted a preemptive strike in her summation. She told the jury to “use their common sense,” to persuade them that doing so would be cause for acquittal when and if Judge Burke responded the same way.
The Consent Awareness Network (CAN) is fighting to define consent in our laws so that a clear definition guides jurors, guides society’s behavior, and holds sexual predators accountable. Leaving “consent” up to the “common sense” of sexual predators will never conquer sexual assault!
We got lucky in the Cosby case!
The foreperson for the jury, Cheryl Carmel, was a cyber security expert. She was very familiar with the definition for consent in General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is international law and defines consent.
The GDPR definition is the same as the definition I introduced in my TEDx Talk: “Freely Given, Knowledgeable and Informed Agreement, #FGKIA.” Coincidentally, GDPR went into effect in May of 2018. My TEDx Talk was presented in May of 2018.
We need to pray that Weinstein’s jury has researched the meaning of consent.
They could find the consent provision in Model Penal Code, or the definitions in Nuremberg Code, GDPR, and my TEDx Talk. Without the actual definition for consent, a jury’s ability to convict is seriously hampered.
Forcing or coercing a victim is not consent because consent must be freely given, knowledgeable and informed. The use of force, threat, (such as negatively impacting a person’s career or livelihood), and trickery, are absolutely not consent.
Without clearly stating the definition for consent in our laws, locking up sexual predators is a crap-shoot. Some juries will be aware. Some will not. Let’s hope this jury is aware.
But don’t despair if they’re not aware……
I’m crossing every finger and toe…. and sending countless prayers up to the heavens….. that Weinstein gets convicted. But without a clear definition for consent and defense council insisting that he had consent…. he may not. And we need to be prepared.
In NY, coercion is a crime in and of itself. If this case ends with a hung jury, the prosecutor’s next attempt should additionally indict Weinstein for coercion. Coercion for sexual contact is a Class E Felony. and it is specific that coercion includes making someone fearful about their career or income. The sentence for Class E Felonies is 2 to 5 years. If there are multiple victims, the sentences do not have to run concurrently. The statute of limitations is 5 years. However, if he is acquitted, double jeopardy would apply unless new complainants step forward with cases that occurred within the past five years.
The unthinkable is likely
Unfortunately, even though I’m totally convinced that Weinstein did everything he was accused of, I don’t think the case presented by the ADA, without a clear definition for consent, is strong enough to convict him. For that reason, I’m hoping that at least there will be a hung jury, which would give the ADA an opportunity to enlighten the next jury about coercion and acquiescence and bring coercion charges against him.
Important considerations for the jury
Some of the current Weinstein jurors could understand consent while others may not. Some could grasp that a victim who suffered the grotesque humiliation of defilement would not want to add the added loss of their career to their suffering by going public or reporting the incident to the police. After the fact, coming forward against a man who their industry revered, and risk being blackballed, would be an imposing obstacle.
Weinstein picked most of his victims because of their career interests. He knew how much they could lose by accusing him of his hideous deeds. They might never have worked in their craft again. They would not only have suffered the harm of defilement, but the exponential loss of their dreams.
Society and sexual assault victims deserve better!
A not guilty verdict would not be a testament to his innocence. Rather, it would be a testament to society’s confusion about consent. If he’s convicted, it’s because at least this jury got it right. But what about the next one?