But the panel ruled that because federal prosecutors never filed charges or began criminal proceedings against Epstein, the Crime Victims’ Rights Act was never triggered — meaning those Epstein was accused of abusing were not protected by the law. Epstein’s alleged victims have long complained the non-prosecution agreement was reached without their input.
“It’s not a result we like, but it’s the result we think the law requires,” the majority wrote.
Courtney Wild — who alleges Epstein abused her and sued over prosecutors’ treatment of victims — said in a statement released through her attorney: “This is impossible to understand — 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. And the Judges ruled in their favor. How?”
Her attorney, Paul Cassell, said he planned to ask the entire 11th Circuit to rehear the case.
In some sense, the practical effect of the ruling is limited. Epstein is now deceased; authorities say he killed himself while in jail last year on new, federal sex trafficking charges. He had pleaded not guilty to those fresh allegations.
But Cassell said it could complicate efforts to bring charges against those who helped facilitate Epstein’s misdeeds because his old non-prosecution agreement granted immunity to co-conspirators and can now not be challenged. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who were not part of the previous non-prosecution agreement, are investigating those who might have facilitated Epstein’s crimes.
And more broadly, Cassell said, the ruling suggests “there are no crime victims rights in the federal criminal justice system unless the feds decide to draw up an indictment.” The majority judges seemed to acknowledge that point.
“It isn’t lost on us that our decision leaves petitioner and others like her largely emptyhanded, and we sincerely regret that,” they wrote. “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.”
The case stems from 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 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 now reviewing the handling of the case.
Wild alleged she and others Epstein victimized were illegally kept in the dark about the arrangement as it was being hammered out, and last year, U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra ruled that prosecutors had violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
After Epstein’s death, though, Marra declared the case moot — an important step because it seemed to undercut efforts to invalidate the non-prosecution agreement.
The 11th Circuit majority opinion was written by Judge Kevin Newsom, a Trump appointee, and joined by Judge Gerald Tjoflat, who was appointed by President Gerald Ford. It validated many of Wild’s allegations — asserting, for example, that it seemed prosecutors in Miami had “affirmatively misled” her and others.
In a scathing dissent, Judge Frank Hull, who was appointed by Clinton, went even further, writing that the victims’ rights had been “repeatedly violated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida.”
“Our criminal justice system should safeguard children from sexual exploitation by criminal predators, not re-victimize them,” Hull wrote. “The Majority concludes that our Court is constrained to leave the victims ‘emptyhanded,’ and it is up to Congress to ‘amend the Act to make its intent clear.’ Not true. The empty result here is only because our Court refuses to enforce a federal statute as Congress wrote it.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta, where the 11th Circuit is based, declined to comment.