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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Jane Does #1 and #2 v. United States, No. 08-80736-CIV-Marra/Johnson (S.D. Fla. Sept. 26, 2011) (order granting in part the victim-plaintiffs’ motion for finding violations of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act).

September 30, 2011

Two victim-plaintiffs sued the federal government, claiming violations of their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771,  arising from the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s handling of the investigation and prosecution of Jeffrey Epstein, the man who sexually abused plaintiffs while they were minors.  Plaintiffs filed motions with the district court seeking, inter alia, a finding of violations of their CVRA rights and an order directing the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to withhold relevant evidence.  Plaintiffs argued that their CVRA rights to confer, to be treated with fairness, and to accurate and timely notice of court proceedings, were violated by the government when it failed to notify them of a plea agreement with Epstein, pursuant to which Epstein would plead guilty to two state felony offenses for solicitation of prostitution and procurement of minors for prostitution and the U.S. Attorney’s Office would agree not to prosecute Epstein for federal offenses.  As a remedy for these violations of their rights, plaintiffs argued that the court should invalidate the non-prosecution agreement.  The government argued in response that because a federal indictment had never been returned against Epstein, the CVRA did not attach, and that, even if it did, the government had used its best efforts to comply with the CVRA. 

The court rejected the government’s arguments, holding that the CVRA attaches before the government brings formal charges against a defendant “because the statutory language clearly contemplates pre-charge proceedings.”  The court offered by way of example, subsections (a)(2) and (a)(3) of the CVRA, which provide rights that attach to “any court proceeding … involving the crime.”  The court also pointed to subsection (b), which requires courts to ensure CVRA rights in “any court proceedings involving an offense against a crime victim.”  As the court explained, “[c]court proceedings involving the crime are not limited to post-complaint or post-indictment proceedings, but can also include initial appearances and bond hearings, both of which can take place before a formal charge.”  After discussing other provisions of the CVRA that similarly support the attachment of CVRA rights pre-charging, the court also rejected the government’s argument that this interpretation of the CVRA would impair prosecutorial discretion and decision-making, noting that “any encroachment into the prosecutors’ discretion is expressly limited by the CVRA itself … .”  Because the court found that some factual development was necessary to resolve whether or not plaintiffs’ CVRA rights were violated by the government, it deferred ruling on this issue until plaintiffs conducted discovery in the form of document requests and requests for admissions from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.