The practical effect of whatever is decided is somewhat limited. Epstein, authorities say, killed himself last year while in federal custody awaiting trial on new sex trafficking allegations brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. But the 11th Circuit’s decision could have broader implications for what prosecutors are required to tell victims about criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Courtney Wild — who alleges that Epstein abused her and who sued over prosecutors’ treatment of victims — said in a statement released through her attorneys: “I had confidence this day would come. We have fought for 12 years, and as I’ve said before, no matter how many obstacles pile up, we will never give up fighting for what is right.”
Her attorneys, Paul Cassell and Brad Edwards, said: “This is an important ruling for crime victims, not just for Epstein’s victims but all victims of federal crimes. We look forward to arguing before the full Eleventh Circuit that ‘secret’ plea deal[s] violate the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and that this particular deal should be rescinded.”
At issue in the case is Epstein’s 2008 deal with the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami, which was then led by Alex Acosta, who would go on to serve as labor secretary under President Trump before resigning after Epstein was charged anew last year. Though he was facing dozens of molestation allegations at the time, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to state charges of soliciting prostitution — not more serious federal crimes — and spend just over a year in jail. He had the ability to leave for work daily. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is reviewing the handling of the case.
Wild alleged that she and others Epstein victimized were illegally kept in the dark. Last year, a federal district court judge sided with her, ruling that prosecutors had violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. But at the same time, he declared the case moot, a move that undercut efforts to invalidate the non-prosecution agreement.
In April, a three-judge panel overturned that ruling, criticizing the prosecutors who brokered the deal but deciding that because they never filed charges or began criminal proceedings against Epstein, the Crime Victims’ Rights Act was never triggered. That meant those Epstein was accused of abusing were not protected by the law — a point the judges who wrote the opinion noted.
“It isn’t lost on us that our decision leaves petitioner and others like her largely empty-handed, and we sincerely regret that,” they wrote. “Under our reading, the CVRA will not prevent federal prosecutors from negotiating ‘secret’ plea and non-prosecution agreements, without ever notifying or conferring with victims, provided that they do so before instituting criminal proceedings.”
Cassell said previously that invalidating Epstein’s 2008 agreement could aid the ongoing investigation of those who helped facilitate his abuse, because the non-prosecution agreement granted immunity to co-conspirators.
But even with the three-judge panel’s ruling in place, federal prosecutors in Manhattan brought charges against Ghislaine Maxwell, a confidante and girlfriend of Epstein, alleging that she recruited and groomed underage girls for abuse.