An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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David I. Tevelin
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from David I. Tevelin
Interviewee:David I. Tevelin;
Alexandria, VA
Date of Interview:January 13, 2003
Location:Washington, DC

David I. Tevelin




Biography

David Tevelin is the Executive Director of the State Justice Institute in Alexandria, Virginia

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

In 1983, David Tevelin was Acting Deputy General Counsel at the Office of Justice Assistance, Research and Statistics. He was asked by the recently appointed Assistant Attorney General Lois Haight Herrington to work on a draft of a Victims of Crime Bill and to shepherd its passage through Congress.

What is the History of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984?

Years earlier, a crime victims bill had been introduced by the Democratic Chairman of the Judiciary, Peter Rodino, but it had stalled in Congress. Funding for victim services and compensation in the Rodino bill had relied upon general appropriations rather than criminal defendant fines, and became a key issue in the passage of the newly proposed (VOCA). By 1983, the President's Task Force Report had been published and well-received. With the appointment of Haight, there was a consensus that a victims of crime bill could pass and that funding would be made available. Tevelin remembers a high level of energy and enthusiasm to move the bill forward.

Opposition to VOCA

The support for and opposition to VOCA had always been bi-partisan. Opposing liberals suspected that the conservatives were taking rights away from criminal defendants, and giving new "undeserved" rights to victims who were not part of the criminal justice process. Opposing conservatives viewed the bill as a new and expensive government hand-out. Once the funding had been clearly defined as coming from offender fines, much of the opposition to the bill in Congress disappeared, and VOCA passed in October 1984.

"Conservatives you sold to on the counter [argument] that this was the way to restore balance to the criminal justice system, to make sure that crime victims get everything that criminal defendants get in terms of benefits and rights. Liberals could support it because it created some government assistance for a needy class of people out there."

Greatest Challenge

Because the Attorney General at the time, Ed Meese, was a strong supporter of victims' rights, VOCA received an immediate endorsement from the Justice Department. However, the Office of Management and Budget looked at the bill as another entitlement program and needed to be convinced of its desirability. Tevelin gives full credit to Lois Haight Herrington for its successful passage.

Tevelin emphasizes that besides Assistant Attorney General Lois Haight Herrington, four other individuals were important in the passage of VOCA that should be recognized for their efforts:

Tom Hutchinson was counsel for the Rodino subcommittee on crime and the originator of the first proposed victims of crime bill. He had spent five years calling people's attention to crime victims' issue before the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime began their study in 1982. Tevelin credits Hutchinson for the wise crafting of the legislation. Tevelin calls attention to Deborah Owen who was General Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, along with Chairman Strom Thurmond who became a "terrific backer of the bill." Finally, he recognizes Race Metanko, who was Minority Counsel in the House for his efforts in creating the intelligent compromises that contributed to the passage of VOCA.

A warning from Tevelin: It is important that VOCA funds are not taken for granted, and that the money be correctly administered. Otherwise, things could change at any time in a direction that is unfavorable to the field.

"I was basically the spare tire for Lois who was the entire vehicle moving through those corridors...She came at the proposal in a way that they were not used to. It was very passionate, very personal, very direct, and without her, this legislation would never have been passed."

Successful Strategies

Tevelin notes two important strategies for the passage of VOCA. One was to make sure that everyone who thought he or she deserved credit for moving the bill forward received it, including members of both political parties, and both houses of Congress. Second, the $100 million cap was a strategy necessary to keep the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) satisfied. The OMB did not want the fund to be "an open-ended siphon."

"You should be vigilant and you should make sure that there's no scandal and no fraud, waste, or abuses .... because if it's seen that people are misusing this money or spending it for purposes nobody had in mind, it's only going to hurt the whole field."

The State Justice Institute(SJI) and its Role

The State Justice Institute (SJI), of which Tevelin is currently Executive Director, was created by Congress to award grants to improve the quality of justice in the state courts. The importance of SJI for victims is that state courts handle 95 percent of all criminal cases involving victims. Through SJI, efforts have been made to see that judges treat victims in a more sensitive manner. In the early 1990s, SJI began to hold national conferences about family violence and the courts. Trial judges, victim advocates, prosecutors and defense counsel came together to discuss sensitive treatment of victims, appropriate sentences, keeping victims informed and involved, and keeping sexual assault victims involved, in particular.

As a result of these meetings, judges began to see themselves as leaders in promoting change in the courts to better serve victims. Tevelin acknowledges that insensitive treatment to victims in the courts continues but today, judges who treat victims badly can make headlines in their local newspapers and they have to respond to their constituents and, sometimes, voters. Tevelin points out that in over 40 states, judges at some level are elected and when they stand before the electorate, they want to be perceived as victim-sensitive.