A federal appeals court has denied relief to victims of Jeffrey Epstein under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, refusing their requests for remedies such as the release of FBI documents and a public hearing on Epstein’s criminal case in Florida.
The opinion comes as part of a 12-year legal battle between Courtney Wild, who was underage when Epstein sexually abused her, and the federal government. After Epstein secured a controversial plea deal in 2008, Wild was one of two “Jane Does” to sue the feds, alleging the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) by keeping more than 30 victims in the dark about Epstein’s non-prosecution agreement.
In May of 2007, Epstein was facing a 53-page indictment for trafficking underage girls and could have spent life behind bars, if charged and convicted. But Epstein’s lawyers secretly negotiated with federal prosecutors to scrap the drafted indictment, and the perverted financier pleaded guilty to lesser state charges instead. (Epstein served 13 months in a private wing of the Palm Beach County jail. The money-manager was permitted to spend 12 hours a day, six days a week, on “work release,” and during that time, he continued to abuse young women.)
On Tuesday, the appeals court ruled the CVRA does not apply to Wild’s case because “the government never filed charges or otherwise commenced criminal proceedings against Epstein” and thus “the CVRA was never triggered.”
“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,” wrote the panel, which included judges Kevin C. Newsom, Gerald Bard Tjoflat and Frank M. Hull. (The decision was written by Newsom, with Tjoflat concurring. Judge Hull dissented.)
“We hold that at least as matters currently stand—which is to say at least as the CVRA is currently written—rights under the Act do not attach until criminal proceedings have been initiated against a defendant, either by complaint, information, or indictment,” the judges’ decision continued.
“Because the government never filed charges or otherwise commenced criminal proceedings against Epstein, the CVRA was never triggered. It’s not a result we like, but it’s the result we think the law requires.”
Brad Edwards, a lawyer for the victims, told The Daily Beast he would request a hearing before the full Eleventh Circuit court to reconsider the panel’s decision.
“It is clear that even the majority detested the government’s treatment of the victims but apparently felt there was a loophole in the CVRA that the prosecutors and Epstein successfully exploited,” Edwards said in an email.
“For all the reasons given in the 60-page dissenting opinion, 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.”
In February of 2019, U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled federal prosecutors in Miami violated the CVRA by secretly negotiating with Epstein’s lawyers to downgrade his charges to state court. “Petitioners and the other victims should have been notified of the Government’s intention to take that course of action before it bound itself under” a plea agreement, Marra wrote in his decision.
But in September, Marra rejected victims’ requests for remedies, which included voiding the plea deal’s immunity provisions that protected Epstein and his alleged accomplices. The alleged co-conspirators, according to the agreement, include “Sarah Kellen, Adriana Ross, Lesley Groff, or Nadia Marcinkova.”
Wild petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to reverse Marra’s decision and order the district court to grant victims “all appropriate remedies,” including rolling back “the NPA’s immunity provisions, holding a public hearing on the case, release of documents, and an award of attorneys’ fees.”
The appeals court’s decision suggests the CVRA doesn’t apply to Epstein’s victims at all.
According to the federal law, crime victims have rights—which include the right to timely notice of any public court proceeding involving the crime; the right to be heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving pleas or sentencing; and the right to confer with the attorney for the government in the case.
“The interpretation of the CVRA that petitioner advances, and that the district court adopted, is not implausible; the CVRA could be read to apply pre-charge,” the panel stated. “We conclude, though—reluctantly, especially given the mistreatment that petitioner seems to have suffered at the hands of federal prosecutors—that the Act is neither best nor most naturally read that way.”
“On balance, we conclude that the Act’s terms—including the provisions on which petitioner relies—demonstrate that its protections apply only after the commencement of criminal proceedings.”
The panel majority adds, “Again, must prosecutors consult with victims before law-enforcement officers conduct a raid, seek a warrant, or conduct an interrogation? That seems exceedingly unlikely.”
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Hull said the panel majority “patently errs in holding, as a matter of law, that the crime victims of Jeffrey Epstein and his co-conspirators had no statutory rights whatsoever under the CVRA.”
“Instead, our Court should enforce the plain and unambiguous text of the CVRA and hold that the victims had two CVRA rights—the right to confer with the government’s attorney and the right to be treated fairly—that were repeatedly violated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida,” Hull wrote.
The dissenting judge warned that the majority’s “pre-charge rule will deny victims’ CVRA rights to confer and fairness in cases involving white-collar and other wealthy defendants who commonly engage in pre-charge plea negotiations.”
“Jeffrey Epstein’s case illustrates my point,” Hull added.
Hull pushed back on the majority’s claim that pre-charge CVRA rights would result in prosecutors having to consult with victims before authorities “conduct a raid, seek a warrant, or conduct an interrogation.”
“The Majority is more afraid of a future ‘crime victim’ potentially asking a ‘readily identifiable’ government ‘attorney’ to confer ‘reasonably’ with her pre-charge, than it is of secret pre-charge plea deals for wealthy defendants, even though it’s now common practice for them to seek the best plea deal in advance of indictment,” Hull continued.
“The Majority’s new blanket restriction eviscerates crime victims’ CVRA rights and makes the Epstein case a poster-child for an entirely different justice system for crime victims of wealthy defendants.”