Harvey Weinstein's 23-year punishment is 'a virtual death sentence': Legal expert

What's next for Harvey Weinstein?

On Wednesday, the former movie mogul was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault, a punishment one legal expert calls "a virtual death sentence." Weinstein, 67, faces an uphill battle with his appeal as he awaits next steps behind bars.

"Weinstein’s about to turn 68 and short of getting his convictions overturned, a sentence of any consequence makes this a virtual death sentence, as his defense lawyers said," Silva Megerditchian, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense lawyer and CEO of SLM Legal, tells Yahoo Entertainment.

"His attorneys will have a tough time getting the sentence reduced," Megerditchian continues. "Appealing the convictions themselves may be a better alternative. But let’s not forget, Weinstein still faces rape charges in Los Angeles. Defense counsel’s biggest fear is that Weinstein will die in custody."

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office has begun the process of extraditing Weinstein to California to face the sexual assault charges that were filed in January. An arraignment date has yet to be set, but Weinstein will remain in a New York prison in the interim.

A spokesperson for Weinstein confirmed to Yahoo he was transferred back to Rikers after court Wednesday. In the next seven to 10 days he'll be sent to Fishkill Correctional Facility, a multi-security level prison in New York, "where they will determine where he serves his sentence."

Weinstein's top attorney, Donna Rotunno, called Judge James Burke's sentence of 23 years "obnoxious," but legal experts find the punishment reasonable.

Says Megerditchian, "23 years is a long sentence for someone who’d never been convicted of a rape or serious crime. But the judge handed down a sentence well within sentencing parameters. Ask the victims whether Weinstein’s punishment is too harsh and they’re likely to feel that the predator got exactly what he deserved."

Harvey Weinstein "will have a tough time getting the sentence reduced," a legal expert says. (Photo: Getty Images)
Harvey Weinstein "will have a tough time getting the sentence reduced," a legal expert says. (Photo: Getty Images)

Nicole Page, partner with Reavis Page Jump’s entertainment and employment practices, agrees that Judge Burke's sentence "is fair."

"It is [a virtual life sentence] and we don’t yet know what the outcome of his L.A. trial will be," she explains.

Weinstein's legal team has said they intend to appeal.

"He is able to appeal and will presumably do so," notes Page. "In an appeal his attorneys can ask for a number of things ranging from a reduction in the sentence to a request for a new trial."

Megerditchian explains that Weinstein "can appeal both the sentence and the convictions."

"But the judge’s sentence is within the sentencing parameters," she emphasizes. "I don’t think he stands much of a chance. He may have a better chance getting the convictions tossed but even that’s an uphill battle."

While a successful appeal seems unlikely, Megerditchian points out "there are some clear issues which may have an impact." She explains the defense team's best bet may come down to one juror.

"First, one of the jurors is an author who wrote a book on predatory men having relationships with younger women — and her book is to be released this summer," Megerditchian explains.

According to reports, one of the female jurors wrote the upcoming book Age of Consent about "three young women in the 1980s, who negotiate fraught friendships, sexuality, class and predatory older men on the journey from innocence to independence." The Daily Mail reports her novel contains a scene similar to a victim's testimony given during the trial.

"This potentially can be an appealable issue if the defense can argue she had a financial stake in the verdict," continues Megerditchian.

"Second, the judge allowed [witnesses] to testify to prior bad acts of Weinstein, despite the defense's impassioned argument to keep it out, and third, the L.A. announcement of sexual assault charges against Weinstein while the New York trial started — all are issues that may be brought up in appeal, but still an uphill battle to have this case overturned," Megerditchian concludes.

Weinstein's guilty verdict was a landmark moment for #MeToo and his sentence is equally impactful.

"As someone who represents women subjected to harassment and abuse, I am relieved and hopeful," Nicole Page shares. "I am also amazed that Weinstein and others like him seem utterly baffled when they finally get caught. It shows that we live in a society where much of this behavior is deemed acceptable, at least in the minds of certain powerful men."

Angela Reddock-Wright, a Los Angeles employment attorney, mediator and investigator, emphasizes what Wednesday's sentencing sends a clear message.

"There is no doubt prosecutors and the judge were influenced by the #MeToo movement. The victim impact statements were powerful and undoubtedly caused the judge to think about the impact of Weinstein’s actions on the victims' lives," she says.

"The judge’s message is loud and clear and will resonate for years to come. The Weinstein case and the #MeToo movement as a whole have empowered women to come forward when they believe they have been victims of sexual harassment, assault or violence," she continues. "Hopefully, the long sentence will discourage such behavior in the future, and will have a lasting impact on the casting couch culture that has existed in Hollywood for years."

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