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How the charges in Harvey Weinstein’s trial work, and why Annabella Sciorra’s testimony is so vital

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Less than an hour after jurors in Harvey Weinstein’s New York trial began deliberating, they returned with a long note for the court with a clear message: Can you please explain these charges more?

It was an understandable question for the jury. The verdict form in Weinstein’s trial included a complex mix of either/or charges, witnesses who are not directly part of charges and legal terms with specific definitions.

We’ll work to explain them here. The essence is that Weinstein is primarily charged with alleged sexual attacks against Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann. If the jury finds him guilty on either or both of the first-degree felony counts — criminal sexual act and/or rape — then Annabella Sciorra’s rape allegation can escalate the charges to a more serious felony — predatory sexual assault, punishable by up to life in prison.

That means Sciorra’s allegation does not stand as a crime on its own. Her claim also fell outside the statute of limitations. Still, her testimony is key to whether Weinstein could spend the rest of his life behind bars for predatory sexual assault.

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and his attorneys say all of the sexual interactions were consensual. The jury of seven men and five women began deliberating on Tuesday and has not reached a verdict.

Weinstein can be convicted at most of two charges

In all, Weinstein faces five charges: first-degree criminal sexual act, first-degree rape, third-degree rape and two counts of predatory sexual assault.

The two first-degree charges are each punishable by at least five years and a maximum of 25 years in prison. The third-degree rape charge is punishable by probation up to four years. The predatory sexual assault charges come with a sentence of 10 years up to life in prison.

But several of those charges are either/or counts, or what’s known as “alternative” charges. Weinstein can only be convicted of, at most, two charges — one based on Mann’s allegations and one based on Haley’s.

Haley testified in court that Weinstein pinned her down and forced oral sex on her at his Manhattan apartment in 2006. For that, Weinstein is charged with first-degree criminal sexual act.

Mann testified in court that Weinstein raped her at a New York hotel in 2013 during what she described as an abusive relationship. For that, Weinstein is charged with first-degree rape and third-degree rape, though he can only be convicted of one of those.

If the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that Weinstein committed either of the first-degree charges, they then must make a separate finding on Sciorra’s testimony.

Sciorra testified that Weinstein barged into her apartment and raped her in the winter of 1993-1994.

If jurors believe that incident constitutes a first-degree rape or first-degree criminal sexual act, then the first-degree charges involving Haley and/or Mann would be escalated to predatory sexual assault.

If the jury finds that the incident involving Mann is a third-degree charge, though, that cannot be escalated into predatory sexual assault because the predatory charge requires two first-degree sexual crimes.

In addition, three other women testified as what’s known as “prior bad acts” witnesses and said that Weinstein sexually attacked them in separate incidents. Their accusations are not connected to any charges, but prosecutors argued their testimony shows Weinstein had a clear pattern of behavior.

Jurors must consider ‘forcible compulsion,’ intent and consent

The text of the charges rely on three key legal ideas: forcible compulsion, intent and consent.

Forcible compulsion, as Judge James Burke explained in court, means to intentionally compel by the use of physical force, or “by a threat expressed or implied which places a person in fear of immediate death or physical injury to herself.”

In essence, it’s using force or using the threat of force to get what you want. Prosecutors argued that Weinstein used “forcible compulsion” in attacking the women, while his defense argued that the women consented to the sexual interactions.

Within that definition is the word “intentionally,” and that too has been an important part of the trial. Burke defined intent as “conscious objective or purpose” and said that jurors can look at what Weinstein did and said at the time. “Intent does not require advanced planning nor is it necessary that the intent be in a person’s mind for any particular period of time,” Burke explained.

“To make that determination in this case, you must decide if the required intent can be inferred beyond a reasonable doubt from the proven facts,” Burke told the jury.

Finally, the jury must decide whether Weinstein acted without the women’s consent in these sexual encounters.

For the first-degree rape and criminal sexual act charges, forcible compulsion necessarily means there was a lack of consent. So the issue of consent is most important to the third-degree rape charge, which can include situations without forcible compulsion.

Burke explained the full definition in his jury instructions, which partly relies on what a “reasonable” person would do.

“Lack of consent results from forcible compulsion or circumstances under which at the time of the act of intercourse, the complainant clearly expressed that she did not consent to engage in such act and a reasonable person in the defendant’s situation would have understood the complainant’s words and acts as an expression of lack of consent to such act under all the circumstances,” Burke said.

As in any case, to find Weinstein guilty on any charges the jury must find the crimes were proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The 12-person jury must also be unanimous in its decision.

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