Washington, DC – Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Scott Perry (R‑PA), Lois Frankel (D‑FL), and Mo Brooks (R‑AL) introduced the bipartisan Courtney Wild Crime Victims’ Rights Reform Act of 2019 today with nine original cosponsors.
This bill is named for the survivor who courageously led the way in asserting the rights of the scores of victims who fell prey to Jeffrey Epstein in Florida and were kept in the dark as federal prosecutors hashed out a secret and shockingly lenient plea deal. Courtney Wild fought in court for over 10 years before a Federal District Court finally declared that her rights, and the rights of other victims of the serial sexual predator, under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) were violated. Unfortunately, judicial relief was cut short when Epstein committed suicide in jail. This legislation will ensure that such injustice will not affect victims of federal crimes in the future.
The Courtney Wild Crime Victims’ Rights Reform Act of 2019 seeks to make certain that victims of crime are treated with dignity throughout a criminal case and avoid further victimization. The legislation would update and improve the CVRA by clarifying the scope of victims’ rights and creating stronger judicial and administrative processes for victims to assert their rights. The bill will also allow victims to obtain up to $15,000 in monetary redress for violations of their CVRA rights, facilitate better legal representation through attorneys’ fees, and fund victim assistance programs.
“When prosecutors treat a victim as a mere piece of evidence or, even worse, lie to the victims and charge ahead with an unjust plea deal, as was the case with the Epstein case, the victims are victimized all over again,” Rep. Speier, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, said. “Unbelievably, no one at the Department of Justice has been held truly accountable for that serious miscarriage of justice. If victims don’t have a system they can trust to follow through on their rights, those rights are worth no more than the paper they’re written on. This crucial legislation will take steps to make sure that the courts and the Department of Justice follow through on the promises of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.”
“The Bipartisan Crime Victims’ Rights Reform Act of 2019 is about ensuring justice for the most vulnerable among us - to ensure that survivors of crime are made whole, and not re-victimized by unfair, opaque legal proceedings. This bill raises the standard of compassion, giving survivors an opportunity to be heard in the criminal justice process. I’m proud to support the proposal and appreciate the leadership of Congresswoman Speier and the rest of my bipartisan colleagues on this issue,” Rep. Perry said.
“Jeffrey Epstein’s victims were kept in the dark as a sweetheart deal was hashed out, allowing a prolific sexual predator to go free with just a slap on the wrist. This bill ensures a more victim-centered process so that such a miscarriage of justice never happens again,” Rep. Frankel said.
“The botched 2006 Jeffrey Epstein prosecution hurt victims, past and future. Epstein went free and committed even more heinous crimes,” Rep. Brooks said. “As a former Madison County District Attorney and Tuscaloosa prosecutor, I understand that crime victims should deserve a special place in our criminal justice system and that judicial disrespect for victims only magnifies their injury, as happened all too often in the Jeffrey Epstein case. That’s why I join my colleagues across the aisle in supporting this important legislation.”
The Crime Victims’ Rights Reform Act will:
- Clarify that victims of federal crimes have the right to confer with the Government and be informed about key pre-charging developments in a case, such as plea bargains, non-prosecution agreements, and referrals to state and local law enforcement.
- Increase the ability for victims to assert and protect their rights in court proceedings by expanding victims’ right to appeal, allowing victims to challenge proceedings when they weren’t given proper notice, allowing victims independently to bring civil actions to recover restitution from offenders, and providing attorneys’ fees for successful litigation against the Government, as is standard for civil-rights litigation
- Require that victims be heard in court when their rights are violated and provide courts discretion to award other just and appropriate relief, including rescinding non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements.
- Build a stronger victim-focused administrative process within DOJ led by a new and authoritative National Coordinator for Victims’ Rights, including enforceable disciplinary sanctions and compensatory awards for egregious violations of victims’ CVRA rights.
- Facilitate more private advocacy for victims by reauthorizing victim legal assistance grants that have lapsed and authorizing a grant for a national resource center on crime victims’ rights.
The Courtney Wild Crime Victims’ Rights Reform Act is supported by the National Crime Victim Law Institute, National Organization for Victim Assistance, Futures Without Violence, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), Zero Abuse Project, and University of Utah law professor, former federal judge, and attorney for Epstein’s victims Paul Cassell.
“It is unfortunate that we had to be so wronged by the system before these basic, positive changes could be made. But I am happy to know that our suffering and fight for justice will improve the treatment of victims in the future,” said Courtney Wild, victim of Jeffrey Epstein and lead petitioner in CVRA litigation in Florida.
“As a former federal judge and current law professor teaching crime victims’ rights, I know that the CVRA Reform Act is important legislation that will significantly improve the way crime victims are treated in our federal criminal justice system,” stated Paul Cassell, University of Utah Law Professor and attorney for Epstein’s victims. “The new law makes important changes in how the CVRA operates, requiring for example that the Justice Department provide additional information to crime victims when questions arise about how criminal cases are proceeding. For the last eleven years (and continuing today), attorney Brad Edwards and I have been fighting for the rights of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims in CVRA litigation in Florida. If this new law had been in place, it is clear that Epstein’s victims would have had justice by now. The CVRA Reform Act will ensure that the delay and trauma that Epstein’s victims suffered during the protracted litigation never happens again.”
“Futures Without Violence is proud to support the CVRA Reform Act,” said Linda Seabrook, General Counsel of Futures Without Violence. “This bill will go a long way toward providing greater protections to victims of federal offenses by ensuring more meaningful provision and enforcement of their rights, and greater ability for participation in the criminal justice system. We thank Rep. Speier for continuing to fight for the rights of all victims of crime.”
“The changes proposed in the act will improve the treatment of crime victims throughout federal criminal justice,” stated Meg Garvin, Executive Director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute. “From the clarification of rights to the establishment of new processes to creation of a national resource center on crime victims’ rights this Act will ensure that the rights afforded to victims in law are truly meaningful.”
“In light of recent allegations against various powerful figures and institutions, victims of crime, particularly those who have been sexually abused, have a louder voice than ever before,” said Jeff Dion, Chief Executive Officer of Zero Abuse Project. “As society embraces a cultural shift towards disclosure and accountability, every victim has the right to be treated with courtesy, fairness, and care by law enforcement and other officials. This legislation establishes a victim’s right to be included and informed throughout every step of the criminal justice process. Zero Abuse Project is dedicated to supporting all victims of crime and we are proud to endorse this bill.”
“Survivors of sexual violence deserve to have their rights protected under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act,” stated Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN. “Rep. Jackie Speier’s bill will protect survivors when those rights are violated.”