The Volokh Conspiracy

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Five Strong Amicus Briefs Filed in the Supreme Court Supporting Review in the Jeffrey Epstein Victim Case

The congressional sponsors of the Crime Victims Rights Act and prominent groups concerned about crime victims' rights urge the Supreme Court to grant certiorari.


As described in an earlier blog post, Brad Edwards and I have filed a cert petition in the Supreme Court for one of Jeffrey Epstein's sex abuse victims: Courtney Wild. Our petition asks the Supreme Court to review the 11th Circuit's 7-4 en banc decision holding that the Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA) does not extend any rights to crime victims until prosecutors formally file federal criminal charges. Yesterday, five powerful amicus briefs were filed in support our petition, adding additional strength to our argument for Supreme Court review.

The first amicus brief  was filed by Senator Dianne Feinstein and former Senators Jon Kyl and Orrin Hatch.  These Senators were the co-sponsors of the CVRA in 2004, when Congress enacted the new law. The Senators explain that they agree with our interpretation of the CVRA and ask the Supreme Court to review the erroneous decision below:

If permitted to stand, the decision below will roll back the clock to the days before the Crime Victims' Rights Act was signed into law—back when "victims, and their families, were ignored, cast aside, and treated as non-participants in a critical event in their lives." 150 Cong. Rec. at 7296 (Sen. Feinstein). This Court's intervention is critical to avoid that tragic result, restore nationwide uniformity on an exceedingly important issue of federal law, and vindicate the rights of crime victims across the Nation.

In another amicus brief, one of the nation's leading anti-sex trafficking organizations, ECPAT-USA, urged the Court to grant the petition:

The Eleventh Circuit's decision—leaving Jeffrey Epstein's victims with no mechanism to address his secret plea deal—will almost certainly have a significant chilling effect on the reporting of child sex trafficking. In the words of one survivor, the opinion sends a clear message to victims that "they don't matter." The decision also undermines the effective prosecution of sex trafficking by endorsing a regime where prosecutors fail to even consider the voices of victims in assessing appropriate charges.

In another victim-related brief, one of the nation's leading think tanks working to end child abuse and neglect, CHILD USA, highlighted the need to review the decision below:

The crime victims impacted the most by this decision are those who most desperately need the CVRA's protections—victims of sexual abuse and trafficking like Wild. Allowing the Government to negotiate secret deals without including victims not only contravenes the CVRA, it undermines public confidence in fairness and equal justice under law. "There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has." Victims who lack the resources and influence as their abusers will be silenced by the very system designed to protect their rights if the Eleventh Circuit decision is upheld.

The National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) also urged the Court to grant the petition because of the importance of the issues for enforcing crime victims rights:

The Eleventh Circuit's holding that crime victims lack standing to remedy pre-charge rights violations created an end run around the rights and protections that Congress intended. The Eleventh Circuit did this despite the CVRA mandate that courts "shall ensure" that victims are afforded all of their rights under the law. 18 U.S.C. § 3771(b)(1).  … Allowed to stand, the current state of the law would leave every victim of a federal crime in the Eleventh Circuit and nationally vulnerable to secret deals that strip them of their rights with no way to challenge the Government's conduct. This undermines the clear language and intent of the CVRA. This case presents important questions of federal law that need to be settled by this Court.

The fifth and final amicus brief was filed by Legal Momentum, the nation's longest-serving civil rights organization dedicated to advancing the rights of women and girls. Legal Momentum highlights the need for immediate review of the legal issue involved:

Review is necessary in this high-profile case to resolve a split in the federal courts of appeals, district courts, and the Office of the Attorney General concerning the scope of victims' rights under the CVRA. Review is also necessary to help restore the public's faith in the criminal justice system, to enhance transparency, and to provide federal prosecutors with clear guidance about their pre-charge obligations to victims.

Taken together with Ms. Wild's cert petition, these amicus brief make a strong case for further review of the issue of the CVRA's pre-charging application. The decision below  allows prosecutors to circumvent the CVRA, rendering the Act a nullity in far too many cases. The Court should grant Ms. Wild's petition.