An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Steve Twist
Biography & Interview Summary

Picture from Steve Twist
Interviewee:Steve Twist;
Phoenix, AZ
Date of Interview:February 24, 2003
Location:Sacramento, CA

Steve Twist




Biography

Steve Twist serves on the Board of Directors of the National Victims Constitutional Amendment Network, and was formerly an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Arizona.

Initial Involvement in the Crime Victims' Movement

Steve Twist became active in the victim assistance movement as a young law clerk in the early 1970s in the Governor's Office in Arizona. Through his work he met Frank Carrington, the Assistant Director of an organization called Americans for Effective Law Enforcement. Carrington was one of the nation's first active advocates for victims of crime in the early 1970s, and became a mentor to Twist. After Twist graduated from law school he went to work as an attorney for the Navajo Nation and, along with Carrington, drafted a resolution establishing the Navajo Nation Victims' Rights Commission in 1975, the first of it's kind anywhere in the nation.


Interview Summary

Context of the Era

The field of victims' rights and services was "barren" in the mid-1970s when Twist completed law school. He reflects that victims' rights were not mentioned and "victims were truly forgotten" when he attended law school.

"Victims were just another piece of evidence in the criminal case."

Greatest Challenge

Twist realized early on in his law career that to give crime victims a more active role in their own cases, there would need to be true legal reform because the criminal justice system was exclusively focused on the rights of accused and convicted offenders.

Successful Strategies

Twist recalls a case in 1987 in which the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a "clearly guilty" child molester because evidence was introduced in the case that should not have been. After reading the opinion, Twist became motivated to begin a movement for victims' rights in the State of Arizona. He wrote a opinion/editorial piece for the Arizona Republic calling for a constitutional amendment for victims' rights. Twist recalls how grassroots organizations and prosecutors came forward to support the Amendment, and after failing twice to get it on the ballot through the Legislature, activists took out petitions. The Arizona Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment appeared on the ballot and overwhelmingly passed in 1990 when citizens had a chance to vote on it. From this experience, Twist learned the important lessons of building coalitions to advance a cause and involving the public.

Failures

Twist believes the failure to amend the U.S. Constitution to include victims' rights is a failure to date:

"I think at this point it is a failure. All of this reform, all of the best intentions we've had, all of the great legislation around the country. It's made a difference at the margin but it has not changed the culture of the criminal justice system. And it won't change the culture of the criminal justice system until we fundamentally reform the supreme law of the United States, which is the U.S. Constitution."

Greatest Accomplishments

Twist believes there have been two noteworthy accomplishments that have promoted victims' rights and needs. The first are the significant reforms. Twist points to the fact that there are 33 states that have state constitutional amendments for victims of crime. Next, Twist summarizes the evolution of rights for the criminal from the introduction of the Bill of Rights to their actually being applied to the States in the mid-20th century. This exemplifies how long it takes to change the culture of the criminal justice system, and highlights the important role that court cases had in challenging the existing culture. Twist believes the one thing that the victims' rights field has not fully used to its benefit is "hard-edge" legal advocacy to set precedents.

"We need lawyers who will stand up in courtrooms representing crime victims and say, 'Your Honor, you can't do this'."

Continuing the Field's Growth and Professionalism

Twist feels that to continue the growth and professionalism of the field, there must be a Federal constitutional amendment for victims of crime, because this is the only way to really change the culture of the criminal justice system.

Twist advises those new to the victims assistance field to continue to fight to reform laws:

"What I'd say first and foremost is don't be timid, don't accept things the way they are, know that there is a powerful voice in just one person who has the courage to stand up and be heard. And we've seen that power replicated in state after state, and I know we'll see it replicated at the Federal level too. It just takes a little more time."
"First and fundamentally it needs to be the birthright of every person in America to have their rights as crime victims written into the Federal Constitution."

Vision for the Future

Twist believes that if the Federal amendment is passed, there will still be a long road ahead. For example, the first challenge will be ratification of the amendment ratified by 38 states within seven years. There will then be the challenge of enforcing it and finding attorneys around the country who will take on the challenge of representing crime victims and asserting their rights in criminal cases. Twist predicts that this will be a "generations-long project."

"I am absolutely convinced that this proposal will become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and I just encourage everyone in the field to know that if they have the courage to stand up and exercise their First Amendment right to be heard..... they'll be part of history."

Greatest Fear

Twist's greatest fear is that the victims assistance field will not be successful in getting the amendment passed. He fears that the laws in place at the state level will not be successful in allowing victims' voices to be heard, and because of this silence there will not be a Federal Constitutional amendment.