Previous posts here discussed the Sandoval notice of Trump’s prior bad acts and trial Judge Merchan’s rulings concerning what could and could not be used during cross-examination of Donald Trump in his “hush money” trial.  

Following Judge Merchan’s rulings on April 24, 2024, concerning what could and could not be inquired into on cross-examination of Trump, the State of New York Court of Appeals issued its decision in the Harvey Weinstein case. The Court overturned Weinstein’s conviction based upon the trial court’s error in holding that Weinstein’s alleged prior bad acts, which had been identified in a Sandoval notice, would be admissible during the cross of Weinstein. The New York Court of appeals held:

“Under our system of justice, the accused has a right to be held to account only for the crime charged and, thus, allegations of prior bad acts may not be admitted against them for the sole purpose of establishing their propensity for criminality (see People v Molineux, 168 NY 264 [1901]). Nor may the prosecution use “prior convictions or proof of the prior commission of specific, criminal, vicious or immoral acts” other than to impeach the accused’s credibility (People v Sandoval, 34 NY2d 371, 374 [1974]). It is our solemn duty to diligently guard these rights regardless of the crime charged, the reputation of the accused, or the pressure to convict (see Boyd v United States, 116 US 616, 635 [1886] [“It is the duty of courts to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon”]).

“Defendant was convicted by a jury for various sexual crimes against three named complainants and, on appeal, claims that he was judged, not on the conduct for which he was indicted, but on irrelevant, prejudicial, and untested allegations of prior bad acts. We conclude that the trial court erroneously admitted testimony of uncharged, alleged prior sexual acts against persons other than the complainants of the underlying crimes because that testimony served no material non-propensity purpose. The court compounded that error when it ruled that defendant, who had no criminal history, could be cross examined about those allegations as well as numerous allegations of misconduct that portrayed defendant in a highly prejudicial light. The synergistic effect of these errors was not harmless. The only evidence against defendant was the complainants’ testimony, and the result of the court’s rulings, on the one hand, was to bolster their credibility and diminish defendant’s character before the jury. On the other hand, the threat of a cross-examination highlighting these untested allegations undermined defendant’s right to testify. The remedy for these egregious errors is a new trial. (emphasis added).”

Click here for the appellate court’s full decision.

In light of the Weinstein appellate decision, will Judge Merchan modify his rulings, perhaps limiting the prior acts to those showing Trump’s lack of credibility because they constituted lies, such as the defamation of E. Jean Carroll? Watch Weinstein’s criminal defense attorney discuss this question by clicking here.