Over the last week and a half countless women have gone on record revealing horrifying stories of Harvey Weinstein's alleged harassment, verbal abuse and rape. But will the statute of limitations in various states prevent women from pressing criminal charges?
That's one of multiple questions people are asking after Ronan Farrow disclosed that 13 women told The New Yorker Weinstein sexually harassed, assaulted or raped them.
New York and California — where most of the incidents took place — have somewhat confusing laws regarding rape, assault and how long a victim has to sue. In 2016 California removed the statute of limitations for rape cases, allowing victims to sue at any time. But the new law only applies to crimes committed after January 1, 2017. Before the law was amended the statute of limitations in California was generally 10 years. The allegations against Bill Cosby prompted a change in the law.
"Existing law generally requires that the prosecution of a felony sex offense be commenced within 10 years after the commission of the offense," the text of the new law states. That is highly problematic for a woman who wants to pursue a criminal case. But The Weinstein Company could still be sued in a civil action. And many insiders believe that victims would have a far better chance of winning a case against the company.
Doug Silverstein, an attorney specializing in employment and discrimination, told the Los Angeles Times that the Weinstein Company could be liable under California law. "They are on the hook just like him," he asserted. The problem? In the last few days it's been reported that the company may sell to new owners or dissolve the company completely.
At first insiders said Harvey's brother, Bob Weinstein, and president David Glasser would run the company. But that is seeming increasingly unlikely.
"If a full sale cannot be reached, the board will reportedly look to shut down the company and instead sell off its properties piece by piece," Vulture reported.
But Bob Weinstein vehemently denied this claim, issuing a statement saying: "Our banks, partners and shareholders are fully supportive of our company and it is untrue that the company or board is exploring a sale or shutdown of the company.”
New York removed the statute of limitations for rape over a decade ago. But winning a criminal case still tends to be more difficult than a civil case. In March 2015, fashion model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez went to the NYPD about Weinstein. Gutierrez and the Special Victims Division decided to try to get a confession or incriminating statement from Weinstein.
At the investigators' direction, Gutierrez met Weinstein at the bar of the Tribeca Grand Hotel. She recorded the discussion with Weinstein, which included her questioning him about his sexual advances toward her. The NYPD still felt it didn't have sufficient evidence to prosecute.
“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein ... we would have,” a spokesperson for Manhattan Dist. Atty. Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement. “Mr. Weinstein’s pattern of mistreating women, as recounted in recent reports, is disgraceful and shocks the conscience.”
Italian actress Asia Argento — who recounted an alleged rape when she spoke with Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker — was at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc on the French Riviera at the time with Weinstein. But France has a statute of limitations in place for attempted rape and sexual assault.
For all of these reasons a civil action is more likely to result in a win. Laurie Levenson, a former assistant U.S. attorney, told the Los Angeles Times a criminal case against Weinstein would be “possible, but still not likely.”
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