The criminal case against Jeffrey Epstein has officially been dismissed, weeks after his suspicious death in a New York City jail cell, Reuters reports.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said that he was legally required to dismiss the case. As NBC News notes, normally it's merely a formality to dismiss a case against a deceased defendant. But in this particular case, Berman invited alleged victims and their lawyers to the hearing.
Abatement, Posthumous Trials, And Civil Cases
It's exceptionally rare for a criminal defendant to be prosecuted after his or her death, and indeed, it's rarer still in the United States. In almost all cases, the dismissal or, in some cases, abatement, of the defendant's case is pro forma, meaning it happens automatically and without a hearing, as CNN reported in 2017.
As it turns out, however, such rulings throw a wrench into civil litigants' cases against the deceased. In short, a criminal conviction would make it easier for a civil litigant to get a judgment against an accused criminal.
"You could piggyback off that criminal conviction to get to the place where you're only litigating damages," as Rosanna Cavallaro, a law professor at Suffolk University, explained.
There have been several cases where a defendant who was facing both criminal and civil proceedings died before their trial, including former Enron executive Kenneth Lay and Catholic priest John J. Geoghan.
In Epstein's case, the pending civil lawsuits against his estate will go forward, although without a criminal conviction, it may be harder for those litigants to win judgments against him.Co-Defendants
The dismissal of Epstein's criminal case does not, however, mean that his co-defendants are off the hook. For example, as Time reported on August 15, prosecutors are still likely to look into Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who has been accused of being Epstein's "madame"; an Epstein accuser has accused Maxwell of helping procure young girls for Epstein to sexually abuse.
The dismissal of Epstein's criminal case does not affect the concurrent investigations into the suspicious circumstances of his death, either, of which there are currently at least three. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, Epstein's lawyers, the FBI, and the Justice Department's inspector general are all investigating Epstein's August 10 death in his jail cell.
Though his death has officially been deemed a suicide, many questions remain about his death, such as why guards reportedly didn't check on him properly, and whether or not his death was even a suicide.