Monday 12 November 2018

Legal hurdles in other #MeToo cases remain despite arrest of Weinstein

ACCUSED: Harvey Weinstein leaves court with his lawyer Benjamin Brafman. Photo: Getty
ACCUSED: Harvey Weinstein leaves court with his lawyer Benjamin Brafman. Photo: Getty

Andrew Dalton

Harvey Weinstein's arrest in New York last Friday night is a landmark moment in the #MeToo movement.

Yet as authorities work through dozens of cases against famous figures in entertainment and other industries brought on by the Weinstein-inspired wave that began in October, legal hurdles may make such prosecutions the exception.

While men including Kevin Spacey and chef Mario Batali remain under investigation, the next round of charges could well be against Weinstein again, who also is facing scrutiny from authorities in Los Angeles and London.

One expert said prosecutors in those jurisdictions are unlikely to stand down or shift priorities knowing that Weinstein is now charged with rape and another felony sexual assault in New York, where he pleaded not guilty last Friday.

"You never know what's going to happen with the case there," said Stacey Honowitz, a longtime prosecutor of sex crimes in Broward County, Florida. "We don't go easy. Nobody's going to drop the ball and let New York do it."

She said it is more likely that authorities in other cities will be energised, and able to build off the charges.

Stanley Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said last month's conviction of Bill Cosby for sexual assault dating to 2004 has probably been propelling prosecutors forward in other places. "I think perhaps the Bill Cosby conviction really gave them hope that the atmosphere may have changed," Goldman said.

Yet finding prosecutable #MeToo cases has proven difficult.

Los Angeles police said in December that they were investigating 27 entertainment figures, but there have not been any arrests so far. And LA County prosecutors launched a task force in November to evaluate cases, but so far it has brought no charges.

The biggest obstacles by far are statutes of limitations, which have had special prominence amid the #MeToo and Time's Up movements because so many of the incidents involve women working up the courage to come forward after years of silence.

Hundreds of women have alleged varying degrees of sexual misconduct by Oscar-nominated writer and director James Toback, yet prosecutors declined in April to bring criminal charges against him in the five cases they reviewed, citing expired statutes of limitations in every case. California, joining other states, recently eliminated its statute of limitations for rape, making the law a closer match for the #MeToo era, but most cases from before the changes are unaffected.

Goldman said in the past the principle has been that it's disruptive and unbalancing to society to go back and prosecute older crimes.

That has been the case so far with several high profile cases presented to prosecutors, all of which emerged after Weinstein's downfall.

Prosecutors declined to file charges against Roman Polanski over allegations by a woman who reported in October that the Oscar-winning director molested her when she was 10 years old in 1975. Polanski's attorney has denied the allegations. Los Angeles prosecutors still want Polanski to return to the United States to face sentencing in a case in which he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Authorities are still reviewing sexual assault allegations against Spacey, a Los Angeles County district attorney's spokesman said. Sheriff's investigators say the case dates to 1992, which could make prosecution difficult. London police reportedly are investigating two sexual assaults there.

New York police are investigating celebrity chef Batali after a woman said he drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2005. He denies assaulting the woman.

Sunday Independent

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