Federal Crime Victims and Their Rights

Most people have forgotten about him, but one of the more lurid cases to come out of the federal courts in the last 10 years was that of Jeffrey Epstein. After success in finance and science philanthropy, police in Florida received a report of him involved in having sex with underage girls. When the federal government got involved, they discovered even more instances—even involving the use of Epstein’s private jet and allegations he had abused over 30 different women in a sexual abuse ring, lending them to politicians, business executives, foreign governmental officials, and other world leaders.

Epstein faced a life sentence. But how much time did he receive for such depraved abuse? 18 months. That was it. And he got “work release” for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week outside the jail holding him.

Nearly as troubling was why this kind of sentencing agreement was even possible. As detailed in a number of news reports, it appears that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, now-Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, agreed to it. Epstein had hired a number of prominent attorneys to push his defense to the absolute limit, and Acosta entered into the agreement—one condition of which was that the victims would not be kept in the loop about what the U.S. Attorney was even considering.

Two of the victims have now successfully held the US Attorney’s Office to account, though. In the last week, a federal judge ruled that the USAO should have notified the victims of what was happening in the case. The judge also said that there was a chance that the entire sentencing agreement that Epstein got in the first place might be reopened. You can read more about that ruling here: https://reason.com/volokh/2019/02/21/prosecutors-violated-the-rights-of-jeffr

Thankfully, most people are not victimized by people committing federal crimes. But, should that ever happen, you as a victim have rights that the prosecution must respect. They include the right to timely notice of any public proceedings and parole hearings, the right not to be excluded from hearings unless the court specifically rules so, the right to confer with the prosecution, the right to restitution, and the right to be treated with dignity and privacy. And if your rights are not respected even by the trial court, victims even have the right to appeal to a circuit court of appeal. You can read the law itself granting you those rights here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/3771

The Epstein victims had to jump through a tremendous number of hoops to get some measure of justice in their cases. But there are others out there who don’t even know of their rights or how to proceed if they think they haven’t been treated fairly.

If you think you need help having your rights as a victim of crime respected, our attorneys are available to help any victim of crime who needs assistance. With years of experience both as defense attorneys and as prosecutors, our firm can help you vindicate your rights when you’ve been victimized already by a criminal—and before the process of holding them to account becomes punishment for you too.