Appeals court finds prosecutors' secret plea agreement with Epstein didn't break law

Appeals court finds prosecutors' secret plea agreement with Epstein didn't break law
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A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that prosecutors did not break the law in negotiating a plea agreement with Jeffrey Epstein while keeping his victims in the dark more than a decade ago.

A three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that federal prosecutors, led at the time by former Trump administration Labor Secretary Alexander AcostaAlex Alexander AcostaFederal litigator files complaint alleging Labor secretary abused his authority Appeals court to review legality of Epstein plea deal Appeals court finds prosecutors' secret plea agreement with Epstein didn't break law MORE, did not violate victims' rights laws in negotiating a lenient and secretive plea agreement for the late financier.

But the ruling tore into the prosecutors for their handling of Epstein's case, which the judges called a "national disgrace."

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"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," the court ruled, referring to Courtney Wild, a victim of Epstein's who brought the case against the prosecutors. 

"Because the government never filed charges or otherwise commenced criminal proceedings against Epstein, the CVRA [Crime Victims' Right Act] was never triggered," the opinion reads. "It’s not a result we like, but it’s the result we think the law requires."

The ruling overturns a federal judge's decision last year that found that the Miami U.S. Attorney's Office, under Acosta, had broken the law by keeping Epstein's dozens of victims in the dark about the plea agreement in 2008. The judge had also found that the prosecutors illegally lied to the victims by telling them that a sex trafficking investigation that had been closed was still ongoing.

After a federal law enforcement investigation found that Epstein had been sexually abusing dozens of girls as young as 14 over the course of a decade, he reached an agreement with the U.S. Attorney's office to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges and he ended up serving just 13 months in Palm Beach County jail. 

The scandal resurfaced last year after Epstein's arrest in New York and led to Acosta resigning from his Cabinet post.

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Tuesday's ruling holds that the victims' rights law requires that prosecutors keep victims informed only when a criminal case is underway. Because Acosta's office never filed federal charges against Epstein, it was under no legal obligation to keep his victims updated on new developments, the two-judge majority reasoned.

Judge Frank Hull, the dissenter on the panel, lashed out at the majority in her own opinion, warning of the repercussions the decision will have for crime victims.

"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," Hull wrote.

Epstein was found dead in a New York City jail cell last year of apparent suicide while being held on separate charges from the Manhattan U.S. Attorney.