Despite their sympathy for “unspeakable horror” suffered at Jeffrey Epstein’s hands, a 2-1 majority found the Crime Victims’ Rights Act does not provide relief for victims who are mistreated before a formal charge is filed.
(CN) — Victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s underage sex ring were denied relief Tuesday in the 11th Circuit, where an appellate panel stonewalled attempts to throw out a nonprosecution deal that gives immunity to the wealthy financier’s aides.
A 2-1 majority rejected an appeal that aimed to provide relief for Epstein’s victims, who were snubbed by federal prosecutors as the sex crime case played out in South Florida court more than a decade ago.
By all accounts, Department of Justice attorneys concealed Epstein’s 2007 nonprosecution deal from his victims during plea negotiations and after the deal was executed. Under the deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to soliciting underage prostitution in state court in exchange for the DOJ’s assurances that he and his cohorts would be shielded from federal charges in South Florida.
Claiming rampant violations of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, women abused by Epstein in their youth have been fighting in court since 2008 to overturn his and his aides’ federal immunity, to obtain grand jury records and hold Florida public hearings where they can air their grievances against the Justice Department.
The 11th Circuit’s Tuesday ruling acknowledged the government’s misconduct towards the women. But the two judges in the majority found that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act does not provide relief for victims who are mistreated by prosecutors before a formal charge is filed.
The appeal was filed by Courtney Wild, who says she was sexually abused by Epstein at his Palm Beach mansion at the age of 14.
More than 30 victims were lured to the mansion, believing they would be giving paid massages to Epstein. The encounters devolved into Epstein pleasuring himself and engaging in sexual activity with girls as young as 13.
“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,” U.S. Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, an appointee of President Donald Trump, wrote for the majority.
Wild expressed disbelief Tuesday afternoon, saying it was “impossible to understand” the court’s decision.
“The government intentionally misled the victims but found a way to get away with it by working with a child molester to get around the law. The judges ruled in their favor. How?” asked Wild in a statement.
Newsom and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Tjoflat, a Gerald Ford appointee, justified their decision by pointing to the perceived danger of infringing on prosecutors’ and law enforcement officials’ day-to-day decision-making if the Crime Victims’ Rights Act were interpreted broadly.
“Freed from any line limiting the Act’s applicability to the post-charge phases of a prosecution, courts would be empowered to issue injunctions requiring (for instance) consultation with victims before raids, warrant applications, arrests, witness interviews, lineups, and interrogations. That would work an extraordinary expansion of an already extraordinary statute,” Newsom wrote. (Parentheses in original.)
Newsom noted that the law outlines a process for victims to file a “motion for relief” to address violations of their rights, a phrase which he interprets to mean a criminal case must already be active. According to Newsom, the law’s wording indicates it is designed to protect a victim’s right to confer with prosecutors only after criminal charges are brought.
Wild’s appellate attorney Paul Cassell said in a phone interview that it’s “clear that the [Act] as written by Congress can apply even before an indictment is filed.”
Cassell pointed to a 2011 letter that Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona sent to the Department of Justice, expressing concern that federal prosecutors were misconstruing the purpose of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
“When Congress enacted the CVRA, it intended to protect crime victims throughout the criminal justice process–from the investigative phases to the final conclusion of a case,” wrote the senator, who had introduced the bill years earlier alongside Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
Cassell said Tuesday the intent of the law accordingly couldn’t be any clearer. He said that Wild and her counsel plan to file for an en banc rehearing before the full 11th Circuit.
In a fiery dissent, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Hull, a Bill Clinton appointee, said the majority decision ignores straightforward terms in the law.
Hull noted that the CVRA says aggrieved victims can file a motion for remedy either “in the district court in which a defendant is being prosecuted or, if no prosecution is underway, in the district court in the district in which the crime occurred.”
“The majority’s contorted statutory interpretation materially revises the statute’s plain text and guts victims’ rights under the CVRA. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in the CVRA’s plain text requires the majority’s result,” she wrote.
According to Hull, extending victims’ rights into the pre-charging phase has no impact on prosecutors’ ultimate authority. The decision-making power on how to handle a case and whether to charge a suspect remains unimpeded even under a broad interpretation of the law, Hull argued.
The dissenting judge also expressed concern that the court’s decision will disproportionately affect those victimized by wealthy defendants who can afford to enlist high-priced attorneys for extensive pre-charge negotiations with prosecutors.
“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,” Hull wrote.
Epstein died in August 2019 while in custody on new sex-crime charges filed in New York. His death was deemed a suicide by a New York City medical examiner.
Last September, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra granted virtually no relief to Wild. He found that her demand to nullify Epstein’s immunity in Florida was made moot when Epstein died.
As for the assistants who allegedly helped Epstein lure underage girls to the Palm Beach mansion, Judge Marra, a George W. Bush appointee, found that the court couldn’t void their immunity because they were never parties to Wild’s litigation.
If the current 11th Circuit decision is upheld en banc, it would create a split with the Fifth Circuit, which has found that victims’ rights under the CVRA do extend into the pre-charging phase. The split would set the stage for U.S. Supreme Court review of the issue.