At the bond hearing before SDNY District Judge Richard Berman, something almost unheard of occurred. Putative victims of Jeffrey Epstein rose at the hearing and addressed the court.
The women stood just feet from where Epstein was seated in his blue jail outfit as they asked a federal judge to reject a request by Epstein’s lawyers that he remain under house arrest in his $77 million Manhattan mansion until trial on conspiracy and sex trafficking charges.
Until trial? That’s the problem. They’re not characterized as “putative victims” as a pejorative, but because Epstein has yet to be tried and convicted in this case. That whole presumption of innocence problem keeps rearing its nasty head, since we know as a matter of law that it applies, even if we really feel like we don’t want it to. At least this time.
In its papers, the government argued that the “victims” had concerns worthy of consideration by the court.
Does the CVRA entitle these “victims” to be heard?
(a) Rights of Crime Victims.—A crime victim has the following rights:
(4) The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding.
Theoretically, yes, as this is a public proceeding involving release. But it begs the question: are they victims?
The term “crime victim” means a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense or an offense in the District of Columbia.
In some instances, there is no question but that a crime has been committed and the victims easily identified. A murder, for example, may be undeniable, and the survivors are undeniably victims. This, of course, fails to answer the question of whether the person charged committed the crime, but at least there is no doubt that the crime itself occurred.
But in other cases, such as this case, the existence of the crime charged hasn’t been established, and there can be no victim of a crime until there is a crime.
The government requested that the victims be heard at the hearing, and the judge allowed it. No ruling was made that they were victims, or that the CVRA compelled the court to hear their pleas, but the judge has the authority to allow whatever he wants to allow, subject to the prejudice to the defendant.
The arguments by the government, on paper, were curious, that the victims were fearful of the defendant. Based upon the allegations against the defendant, 14 years have elapsed since there was any contact between them, during which time the defendant was free and no harm was done to them. There was no claim that the defendant might commit the same crime against these victims if he was released, so that couldn’t be the justification.
Rather, the concern was that the defendant might try to “take them out” to silence them now. Were these credible concerns, particularly given the notoriety of this prosecution?
In any event, the judge allowed them to speak, and speak they did.
Courtney Wild, an unnamed victim in the 2008 lawsuit against the Department of Justice for the secret plea deal that allowed Epstein to avoid similar charges, spoke for the first time in court with a fellow accuser.
Wild said she was sexually abused by Epstein in Palm Beach, Florida, when she was 14.
“He’s a scary person to have walking the streets,” she said.
Annie Farmer said she was 16 when she met Epstein in New York. She said he later flew her to New Mexico to spend time with him there.
“He was inappropriate with me,” she said. She did not elaborate.
After court, lawyers for the victims held the obligatory courthouse steps press conference “explaining” why their clients were there.
It appears the “victims” contributed nothing of substance, but were there as government props, for their emotional value, to contribute as much to bias the court and public against the defendant as possible. Putting sweet faces to a heinous, if still only alleged, crime, even if nothing more, can have a devastating visceral impact to those watching, and those deciding.
Was this proper? Is it different in this case because Epstein is presumed by so many to be guilty, despised and thus undeserving of the presumption? If so, what prevents the same props to be pulled out when it’s not someone so easily hated?
*Tuesday Talk rules apply.