The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled that the government did not violate the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which allows for victims of crimes to confer with the United States attorney about a case, when federal prosecutors struck a plea deal with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein in 2008 without notifying his accusers.
Judge Kevin Newsom argued in the 2-1 ruling that while he did not like the decision he reached, he concluded that there was no legal basis for accuser Courtney Wild’s petition arguing that the plea deal violated her rights.
“Despite our sympathy for Ms. Wild and others like her, who suffered unspeakable horror at Epstein’s hands, only to be left in the dark — and, so it seems, affirmatively misled — by government lawyers, we find ourselves constrained to deny her petition,” said Newsom in the ruling.
Concerning the legal basis for the decision, Newsom writes in the ruling that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act does not apply until criminal charges have been formally filed.
“Because the government never filed charges or otherwise commenced criminal proceedings against Epstein, the CVRA was never triggered,” said Newsom. “It’s not a result we like, but it’s the result we think the law requires.”
As The Miami Herald reported nearly two years ago, federal prosecutors negotiated a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein’s lawyer in 2007, a deal that tossed a 53-page indictment prosecutors had assembled after identifying 36 underage accusers.
Under the terms of the deal, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to two charges of prostitution. Prosecutors agreed to grant immunity to Epstein’s co-conspirators, and not notify his accusers about the agreement.
Epstein died in federal custody in 2019 of an apparent suicide, while awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges. The Miami Herald reports that Wild’s petition to the 11th Circuit Court was filed with the hope of removing the non-prosecution agreement for Epstein’s 2008 co-conspirators.
Paul Cassell, an attorney for Wilds, told the news agency that they will seek an appeal: “We strongly disagree with today’s ruling, which leaves victims like Ms. Wild without any remedy, even for victims like her who have been ‘affirmatively misled’ by federal prosecutors.”
Judge Newsom also acknowledges that the ruling doesn’t prevent future secret deals, but says that the court can only “hope” prosecutors stop doing them.
“Under our reading, the CVRA will not prevent federal prosecutors from negotiating ‘secret’ plea and nonprosecution agreements, without ever notifying or conferring with victims, provided that they do so before instituting criminal proceedings,” he writes.
“We can only hope that in light of the protections provided by other statutes — and even more so in the wake of the public outcry over federal prosecutors’ handling of the Epstein case — they will not do so,” writes Newsom.
Judge Frank M. Hall, in the lone dissenting opinion, pushed back against the majority, arguing that there was no such provision in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act requiring official charges to be filed before the rights kick in.
“The Majority crafts a bright-line, blanket restriction on the statute: the CVRA grants crime victims no rights whatsoever unless and until a formal indictment is filed in a court,” writes Hall. “There is no textual basis for the bright-line, post-indictment only restriction the Majority adds to the statute. Rather, the Majority’s contorted statutory interpretation materially revises the statute’s plain text and guts victims’ rights under the CVRA.”
The dissenting judge notes that throughout the Epstein investigation, prosecutors sent letters to identified victims explaining their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. Hall later writes that during the plea deal negotiations, prosecutors “repeatedly told Epstein’s attorneys that it had CVRA obligations to notify and confer with the victims about the NPA and upcoming events.”