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Appeals court to review legality of Epstein plea deal

Appeals court to review legality of Epstein plea deal
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A federal appeals court on Friday agreed to reconsider the lawfulness of a secretive plea deal that prosecutors struck more than a decade ago with the now-deceased registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The ruling vacates a decision by a three-judge panel earlier this year that found that federal prosecutors had not violated the law by reaching a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein without his victims’ knowledge.

Instead, the announcement Friday means the full bench of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will take a fresh look at the plea deal and issue a new decision.

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At issue is whether the 2008 deal prosecutors reached in secret with Epstein violated a federal law requiring that victims be included in the justice process.

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.

The late financier’s plea deal arose after a federal investigation found that Epstein had sexually abused dozens of girls as young as 14 over the course of a decade. Under the agreement, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges and ended up serving just 13 months in Palm Beach County jail.

A federal judge last year ruled that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami, then-led 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, had broken the law, known as the Crime Victims' Right Act, by keeping Epstein's dozens of victims in the dark about the plea agreement. The judge 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.

But the opinion earlier this spring by a divided three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit overruled that judge’s decision. The court reluctantly concluded that the Crime Victims' Right Act was never triggered because the government never pursued a criminal case against Epstein.

"It’s not a result we like, but it’s the result we think the law requires," the majority’s April opinion states.

The Friday ruling vacates the panel's decision and presents the issue anew to nine judges on the 11th Circuit bench.

Harper Neidig contributed to this report.