More than 30 female celebrities and entertainment industry professionals recently accused executive Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and/or sexual harassment. These allegations have shocked the entertainment industry and thrown the country into a heated discussion about sexual assault. Many are asking if Weinstein, the former head of The Weinstein Company film studio, will face criminal charges for sexual assault. The answer to this questions depends on when and where the alleged assault(s) occurred.
Criminal Sexual Assault in California
Some of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers indicated that their sexual assaults occurred in the state of California. This is not surprising since Los Angeles is the primary home for Hollywood. In California, sexual assault is a broad term that includes a variety of sexual-based behaviors. Legally speaking, there are two main forms of sexual assault: sexual battery and rape.
Sexual battery is the act of intentionally engaging in unwanted sexual contact with another person against his/her will for sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse. The crime, defined in California Penal Code Section 243.4 PC, occurs when:
- The defendant touches the victim’s intimate part(s) while he/she is restrained;
- The sexual contact was against the victim’s will and/or without his/her consent;
- The defendant engaged in the sexual contact to achieve sexual gratification, sexual abuse, or sexual arousal.
Many of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers allege that Weinstein engaged in unwanted sexual touching at social events and in private at the workplace. Sexual battery can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony in Los Angeles.
Rape is the act of intentionally engaging in forcible sexual intercourse with a victim who is unable or unwilling to consent. The crime of rape, defined in California Penal Code Section 261 PC, occurs when:
- The defendant engages in sexual intercourse;
- The victim was unwilling or unable to consent to the sexual intercourse; and
- The defendant used physical force, intimidation, or the threat of bodily harm or retaliation.
At least three of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers allege that he raped them. Rape is a felony offense in Los Angeles, punishable by 3, 6, or 8 years in a California state prison. If any of Weinstein’s victims were minors, the penalty for rape could be more severe.
Other Sexual Crimes
Many of Harvey Weinstein’s accusers have alleged that he exposed himself and/or masturbated in front of them. This behavior could also land Weinstein in legal trouble. If the victims have proof that he willfully exposed his genitals with the motivation to achieve sexual gratification he could be charged with indecent exposure in Los Angeles. Under California law, indecent exposure can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Statute of Limitations in Los Angeles Sexual Assault Cases
Even if Harvey Weinstein is guilty of sexual assault in California he may not be held criminally liable for his actions. The state imposes a 10-year statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of sexual assault. This means that any victims who experienced sexual assault more than 10 years ago may not be able to have Weinstein held criminally accountable for his actions. They may, however, be able to recover compensation from him in a civil lawsuit.
It is important to note that California recently eliminated the statute of limitations for sexual assault. However, the law is only effective for crimes committed after January 1, 2017. The new law will not apply retroactively, offering no reprieve to victims who suffered abuse more than a decade ago. Moving forward, the elimination of the statute of limitations can help to protect victims.
Sexual Assault Crimes in Other Jurisdictions
Harvey Weinstein is accused of committing crimes of sexual assault across the globe. Each jurisdiction has unique laws about when criminal charges for sexual assault can be filed. Victims who were sexually assaulted in California and other states (or countries) may be able to hold Weinstein accountable if he also assaulted them in a jurisdiction that has a longer statute of limitations.
Evidence in Los Angeles Sexual Assault Cases
Sexual assault is often a “he-said, she-said” affair. Unless there is physical evidence to substantiate a victim’s claim, it is often their word against their abuser’s. Evidence that can be used in a criminal case for sexual assault includes DNA, photographs, witness testimony, expert witness testimony, police reports, video footage, sound recordings, and medical evidence of abuse.
The Weinstein scandal continues to grow as more victims speak out. It is possible that Weinstein could face criminal charges in California and other states for sexual assault. He will undoubtedly seek the advice and counsel of an experienced Los Angeles sexual assault attorney as the situation continues to unfold.