Whether in life or in death, Jeffrey Epstein remains buried deep in lawsuits. On the one hand, are the state and federal prosecutors trying to figure out how to pursue criminal charges against potential Epstein co-conspirators like Ghislaine Maxwell. On the other hand, are the lawyers representing the alleged victims trying to file civil lawsuits against his estate.
The real question however is, will the courts still pursue the criminal and civil lawsuits now that Epstein is dead? Will the Epstein victims get the restitution they so desperately seek? What about the mysterious will he left behind? How might it affect the outcome of the legal issues surrounding his estate?
This article seeks to explore these issues in-depth to find and the options available to all interested parties in the Jeffrey Epstein case.
Epstein Sexual Assault Charges
Dozens of women have come forward with alleged sexual assault assertions against Epstein both when he was alive and now that he is deceased. Most of them allege that they were abused by the wealthy financier when they were minors and are now suing his estate for damages.
It’s no secret that these allegations have plagued Epstein over the years. Court documents show that at least 40 underage girls were sexually assaulted by him at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.
However, in the now infamous 2008 sweetheart deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to a minor state charge of soliciting prostitution, paid a fine , registered as a sex offender, and served a short 18-month sentence with no federal charged filed. The sex crime victims only came to learn of it after the fact, effectively terminating their quest for justice.
But what exactly constitutes sexual assault in the eyes of the law and is it the same as rape?
Sexual Assault Definition
While specific sex crimes law may vary by state, the general definition of what constitutes sexual assault is straightforward. It is a crime in which one party (the offender) subjects the victim to unwanted and unwelcome sexual contact that the latter would consider being offensive.
From the definition, it is clear that the term is quite broad given that sexual assault crimes can range from sexual groping to attempted rape. Involuntary sexual contact may come about through the offender’s use of force, coercion or incapacitation on the part of the victim. Incapacitation here means that the victim doesn’t have the mental ability to understand the nature of the sexual acts fully.
It also refers to a state where the victim is physically incapable of expressing their unwillingness to take part in sexual activity. Examples of these charges include the use of date-rape drugs or alcohol that both impair the victim’s ability to legally consent to sexual conduct.
The laws that encompass this area include nonconsensual sexual contact between people of any age and sex. Therefore, it covers involuntary sexual contact between same-sex individuals like two men or two women and same-age individuals like two minors.
Some states also extend sexual assault perpetrated by spouses. They’ve done this by removing marriage as a possible defense for assault or by creating an entirely different law that prohibits sexual assault on a spouse.
Sexual Assault vs. Rape
Sexual assault is generally the umbrella term that refers to crimes involving unwanted sexual contact and rape. Some states, however, make a clear distinction between crimes that involve coerced/forced contact/touching and those that involve penetration.
The latter is considered an aggravated or 1st-degree sexual assault. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree sexual assault are generally regarded as a felony charge, whereas 4th-degree sexual assault is classified as a misdemeanor. Below is a brief overview of what each one of them entails.
1st Degree Sexual Assault
A person found guilty of first-degree sexual assault can be jailed for a period not exceeding 40 years. It entails:
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse without consent that causes grievous bodily harm/injury or pregnancy
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse without consent accomplished by threatening using a dangerous weapon
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse without consent aided by one or more persons accomplished by threatening or using a dangerous weapon
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse with/without consent with a minor under the age of 13 years
2nd Degree Sexual Assault
A person found guilty of second-degree sexual assault could face a jail term of not more than 20 years with/without a fine not exceeding $10,000. It includes:
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse without consent by using or threatening to use violence
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse without consent that results in the victim contracting an illness, disease, or impairment of their reproductive or sexual organ
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse without consent with a victim known to the offender to be mentally ill, unconscious or under the influence of an intoxicant which impairs their ability to appraise a person’s conduct
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse without consent while assisted by one or more individuals to help commit the offense
- Sexual contact or sexual intercourse with/without consent with a minor under the age of 16 years
3rd Degree Sexual Assault
An individual found guilty of third-degree sexual assault could be looking at a prison sentence not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding $10,000. It entails:
- Sexual contact that involves intentional penile ejaculation without the consent of the victim
- Sexual intercourse without consent
4th Degree Sexual Assault
A person found guilty of fourth-degree sexual assault can be jailed for a period not exceeding nine months in the county jail with/without a fine of not more than $10,000. It includes:
- Sexual contact without a person’s consent. This includes intentional touching of the victim’s intimate areas by the perpetrator either directly or through clothing using a body part or an object, for purposes of humiliating or sexually degrading the complainant, or sexually arousing or gratifying the defendant.
Consent is by law defined as words or overt actions expressed by a person who is of legal age and competence to indicate a freely given agreement to participate in sexual activity, which may include sexual contact or intercourse.
Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault
When a crime is committed, victims often have a predefined window of time within which they can report the crime for the state to pursue legal action on the perpetrators. The laws in place that determine what this period will be are known as criminal statutes of limitation. These vary from one state to the next and are also dependent on the unique circumstances surrounding the particular crime. After this allotted time runs out, the alleged offender cannot be charged for the crime.
To determine whether a statute of limitations applies, state prosecutors have to consider the type of crime, when it occurred, who was involved, and what exceptions apply. For instance, the more serious a crime is, the longer the statute of limitations applies.
Therefore, felony sex crimes, as opposed to misdemeanors, give the prosecutors a longer period within which they can charge suspects involved.
Expanding Statutes of Limitations for Sex Crimes
Following the #MeToo movement, the willingness of sexual assault and rape victims to report sex crimes against them is on the rise. Recent statistics indicate that in 2017, 40.4% of sexual assault victims are more willing to come forward to police to report the crime compared to 23.3% in the previous year.
These numbers may increase given the new laws being passed around the country that give victims more time to seek justice both through criminal and civil lawsuits. Society has come to understand more about the devastating psychological, emotional, and physical effects of sexual violence and why a victim may be reluctant to report the crime.
For instance, a new law passed in New York – the Child Victims Act – allows individuals who were sexually assaulted as minors up to age 28 to report the crime to law enforcement authorities.
Victims also have the option to seek monetary compensation, protection, or any other remedy by filing a civil lawsuit. They can also seek victim compensation from a state agency, as well. The new law also extends the age for victims to sue alleged perpetrators raising it from the previous age 23 to the new age 55.
Civil vs. Criminal Options from Epstein Victims
Despite the mountain of evidence prosecutors had gathered against Epstein, the sex trafficking and sexual abuse criminal cases against him won’t proceed due to his death. According to Martin Weinberg, Epstein’s lawyer, there were more than one million pages of evidence against him, which included victim testimonials and damning photos.
The sexual abuse charges, however, would have been difficult to demonstrate since the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. They would have had to demonstrate “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Epstein indeed abused the victims. This would have been possible if they reported the matter promptly so that DNA evidence of injury could be collected. If convicted, Epstein would have been looking at possible prison or jail time.
In civil cases, however, the threshold for proof is more lenient. The courts only need to establish that the abuse “more likely than not” occurred. The victims can file suites to seek compensation for legal, medical, or mental health costs incurred as a result of the trauma caused by the abuse.
They can even sue for damages arising from gaps in employment as a result of depression or anxiety as a consequence of the abuse. Attorneys representing the victims are suing his estate and it is entirely possible that the deceased financier’s assets could be used in settling these claims.
The Mysterious Epstein Will
Court documents filed in the US Virgin Islands reveal that Epstein had a will that he signed only two days before his suicide. According to the document, all of his estate holdings were left to a newly-created entity known as The 1953 Trust. The will failed to state the trust’s beneficiaries. It did, however, name its executors. Why would Epstein set up a trust in the first place?
The deceased financier’s move can be perceived as an attempt to ensure secrecy. However, from a legal standpoint, Epstein’s wealth cannot be moved into the new entity until all his outstanding debts are settled. This includes all potential monetary damages awarded to his victims.
Jeffrey Epstein Abuse Victim Fund
Executors of the accused child trafficking ring mastermind Jeffrey Epstein’s estate requested a US Virgin Islands court to grant them expedited approval to set up a voluntary claims resolution fund for his victims. The proposed fund would be set up by Jordana Feldman and Kenneth Feinberg. Feinberg supervised the US government’s compensation fund for the 911 victims along with other high-profile compensation programs.
Ideally, the two would have complete autonomy and decision-making authority over all the fund’s affairs without any interference whatsoever from the estate. That way, any eligible victims of the sexual abuse and/or human trafficking crimes against Epstein are accorded the opportunity to resolve their claims confidentially and in a non-adversarial manner as an alternative to litigation. The deceased financier’s estate is currently valued at more than $570 million.
As it currently stands, there are a dozen lawsuits that have been filed against the estate in both federal and New York state courts. One has been filed in the US Virgin Islands. It is anticipated that there will be more civil suits being filed in various jurisdictions like New Mexico, Florida and even France.
How Prosecutors Might Go After Epstein’s Assets
The New York State Department can initiate civil-forfeiture proceedings if they can show that some of Epstein’s properties like the one in New York were acquired fraudulently. If they determine that the property was acquired as the proceeds of criminal activity or was used to facilitate criminal activity, then they can be sold under the forfeiture laws.
The proceeds of the sale would be routed to a fund within the Department of Justice and used to prioritize payouts to victims.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
While the will puts the value of Epstein’s estate at a little over $577 million, this figure is expected to rise as it doesn’t take into account his vast art collection, which is still being appraised.
The victims, however, can rest assured that they will eventually collect on the damages they incurred as the result of the crimes committed against them. It will, however, be a lengthy process before they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If you have legal questions about sex abuse cases and your legal rights, you can also chat online with a Laws101.com attorney, where you’ll be instantly connected to a lawyer who can give you legal guidance on your specific case or question.