Professor Paul Cassell takes fight on behalf of Jeffrey Epstein victims to U.S. Supreme Court

Sep 17, 2021 | Criminal Law Program

Today College of Law Professor Paul Cassell filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to review whether Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual assault victims can challenge his plea deal in court.

The issue presented by the petition is whether federal prosecutors have to confer with crime victims in reaching non-prosecution agreements. Cassell and Florida co-counsel Bradley J. Edwards ask the Supreme Court to interpret the federal Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA)  to block the Justice Department from reaching secret non-prosecution deals, as the department did in the Epstein case. The petition continues Cassell’s and his co-counsel’s ongoing efforts to have the Epstein non-prosecution deal rescinded, so that Epstein’s co-conspirators can be prosecuted in Florida.

Cassell is a nationally renowned crime victims’ rights advocate who represents Courtney Wild, a victim allegedly sexually abused by Epstein. According to the petition, between 1999 and 2007, Epstein sexually abused more than 30 minor girls, including Wild. Federal prosecutors in Florida ultimately reached a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein—blocking not only his prosecution for federal sex crimes but also that of his co-conspirators—in exchange for Epstein’s agreement to plead guilty to two low-level Florida state offenses.

According to Cassell and Edward’s petition, from the time the federal government began investigating Epstein until the time it concluded the non-prosecution agreement, the Justice Department prosecutors never conferred with the victims about the non-prosecution, nor even told them that such an agreement was under consideration.

When Epstein’s sexual abuse victims became concerned about what was happening in their cases, Cassell and Edwards filed a lawsuit alleging that the prosecutors had violated the victims’ rights under the CVRA. The court ruled in favor of the victims that the prosecutors had violated the victims’ rights under the Act. But following Epstein’s death by apparent suicide, the District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed the case. Cassell and Edwards appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court, which ruled in an en banc decision, 7-4, that the CVRA does not give victims the ability to enforce their rights in court until the Justice Department formally files federal charges. Because the Justice Department never formally charged Epstein, the Eleventh Circuit held that the prosecutors were free to conceal their non-prosecution deal with Epstein from the Epstein’s victims.

In today’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Cassell and Edwards argue that “[t]he important legal issue of whether the nation’s preeminent crime victims’ rights statute permits the government to secretly conclude pre-indictment non-prosecution agreements warrants immediate review by this court.” Cassell further said, “the illegitimacy of the Justice Department’s practice of covertly and deceptively arranging non-prosecution deals demands immediate review to maintain the credibility of the federal criminal justice system.”

Courtney Wild added: “The government badly mistreated me and many others. I’m counting on our United States Supreme Court to take my case and give me my day in court.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the petition for review some time this fall. Cassell uses his personal experiences fighting for victims to educate law students to do similar work in the future. Cassell and Edwards have also co-authored two law review articles on the case, found here and here.

Paul G. Cassell, a Ronald N. Boyce Presidential Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. Photo by Benjamin Hager.