An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Seymour: I'm Anne Seymour. I'm the Director of the Office for the Victims of Crime Oral History Project.
Schenck: I'm Bill Schenck. I'm the Prosecuting Attorney in a place called Greene County Ohio, a jurisdiction of about 160,000 people near Dayton and Cincinnati in the southwestern portion of the state. Happy to be here, Anne. It's nice of you to invite me to participate in this project. I'll give it my best shot.
Seymour: Great. So glad you could be with us today. Bill, why and how and when did you first get involved in the crime victims' movement?
Schenck: I graduated from law school at The Ohio State University in Columbus. I was born and raised in Virginia and got a scholarship. Went to Ohio State. The path of this was that when I finished law school I ended up staying in Ohio. So I didn't really know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be.
There was a dean at the law school who said, "Look, you know, I think that you should give trial work a shot. That seems to be something you would be good at. You are not afraid to be on your feet. You look to me like trial work." I said, "Okay." Well we'll try trial work out because I didn't know.
She said, "I think the best place for you to go is to a prosecuting attorney's office. You'll get the quickest experience there. Then you can decide whether you want to stay in that field or whatever." Long and short is that I ended up in this little town called Xenia which is where I live today some 33 years later.
Never been there. Didn't know anyone and applied for this job with this prosecuting attorney who was elected there. After about three or four hours of ticking around the county I thought gee this is great. I've got this job. Everything's wonderful. Long and short is that at the end of the four or five hours, whatever time that he'd taken me all throughout the county and to lunch, he says, "Well, I'll call you. Let you know."
About two or three weeks went by. I'd pretty well given up on it. They were about ready to disconnect my phone. I was broke and had no job. He calls that very last day and he says, "I've offered this job to eight other people and they've all turned it down so I guess if you want it you can have it." That's a true story.
Some 33 years later I'm still in that office although I was in private practice awhile. Was in the public defender office for a while. But the long and short is that I got involved in this movement literally the very first few days that I worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney in this southwestern, moderately rural county.
I'll tell you how it happened. We only had three lawyers in this office. Today we have 19. At the time, we had three. One of my first assignments was to prosecute a preliminary hearing for a very, very brutal rape case. Rape, sodomy and unlawful restraint. It was a young woman in her twenties who was living with this boyfriend.
The boyfriend had a bunch of his buddies over. They were all in the Air Force. Had a bunch of his buddies over. This was in the town of Xenia. There are several small towns in this county and for a card game, I don't remember exactly where or how it happened, but the long and the short is this card game ended up being literally a multiple rape situation.
He and his buddies literally bound and restrained this young woman on to a bed and they repeatedly sodomized her, raped her, defecated on her. One of the most horrible crimes. One of I could put probably in the top 20 of my career.
They hand me this file about two hours before the preliminary hearing. I've never met this lady. I don't even know much about this and I'm reading this file and I'm going, "Oh, my heaven. What am I gonna do here?" Well, I go to the municipal courthouse across the street from where my office was and I find this young woman sitting there and I suppose that she would be the victim.
She's all by herself. Sitting right directly across the hall, no more than 10 feet, are the four defendants and some of their buddies. They are heckling her. They are taunting her. I'm looking at this situation and I am 25-years-old and I am just getting started in my life's work.
I'm thinking "what is wrong with this picture?" I've got a rape -- so she's crying. She saw me. She has no idea what to expect. She's been dragged into a court proceeding. She's got some prosecutor kid with his pants -- flood pants up above his ankles representing her interests.
So we talk for about 20 minutes and I try to calm her down. That was just the beginning of this nightmare. We then go into an open courtroom. There are four defendants, four defense lawyers, half a dozen of these guys' cronies. She sits alone at the table with me.
There's a cop there with me. Pretty good policeman, too. We put her on the witness stand and I ask her what has happened and she's really quite strong and quite eloquent considering the circumstances, to say the least. But the nightmare comes when the cross examination starts.
There was no Shield Law. This was 1971. There was no protection. The judge, a part-time municipal judge and a good guy, basically sits back with his robe on, half awake and half asleep, if you can believe that. These guys proceed to surgically impair this young woman asking her when she first had her first sexual experience. What she did? Who it was? Where it was?
They proceeded over a period -- this was an eight hour preliminary hearing that went on till ten o'clock at night. They had her on the witness stand for six plus hours on cross asking her everything from the color of her toe nails to the size of her bra, literally.
Objection after objection on my part for relevancy, meaningless. The judge overruled. This was cross. It was at that moment that it hit me. We have some serious problems in criminal justice in the United States. I began to think after that preliminary hearing -- we ultimately got convictions in the case. Sent these people to prison.
But it wasn't pretty. I'll tell you, I thought I wonder why they didn't teach us this at law school how bad this is? Why is everything in law school so totally toward the defendant or the accused -- not that I have a problem with that. I don't. I have no problem with due process. I advocate it.
But what are we doing here? I mean we would give more support than this to an elementary school kid playing football in a sandlot. What kind of deal is this? That was when it really first hit me. I stayed for about two years, two and a half years during that stint as an assistant. I left. I went to Dayton. I worked for a big blue chip law firm.
I worked in the public defender office. I ultimately came back to Greene County when a guy named Mike DeWine was elected Prosecuting Attorney. He was my law partner. He's now a United States Senator, as you know. He, of course too, is indeed, I think, one of the pioneers in his own way in the victims' movement although he never really got involved organizationally like I did.
But those first two years there in Greene County, I just went through this time and time again with homicides, sexual assaults, children. The system clearly did not have laws to protect. The system did not have a support system and it was clear to me. But I got kind of off the track and went on to some other things.
When I came back in '77 as Mike DeWine's First Assistant in Greene County, he and I shared the same common philosophy and experience. He also had been an assistant prosecuting attorney after I left. I think to some extent in fairness both of us were looking at this first and foremost in terms of the humanitarian side, the right side. But also from the practical side.
Very difficult to "win" these cases without a better system. Too much intimidation of witnesses be it direct or implied, expressed or implied. Too many people. Too many witnesses unwilling to come forward. There was an imbalance. There was an imbalance not only in terms of a human sense but there was imbalance legally.
Way too much weight on the defendant's side of the scale and none on the victim or the witness' side. He and I saw this as a practical problem as well. In effect, in those four years in the late '70s, Mike and I, we didn't know anything about victim witness programs. There was only one in Ohio at that time and that was next door in Lee Falke's office.
We didn't know much about it. We knew one thing. We had to take matters into our own hands. So we kind of devised our own de facto victim witness program. He and I were both prosecutor and advocate. We would go to peoples' homes. We would bring them to the office. We would counsel them.
There is, Anne as you know, one big problem with that. Difficult to be both prosecutor and advocate because you can't make the hard decisions you need to make as a prosecutor when you're so emotionally involved with the victim, at times, and you sometimes can't really tell a victim look we've got a weak case here and still have -- there are just conflicts that are not easily resolved.
Toward the end of his term, he set into effect his own method of notifying victims and witnesses of every hearing date, of the progress of the case. In effect, he on his own did what the state legislature ultimately did when it enacted a series of statutes to provide certain rights to victims.
So he certainly -- I guess I will take some credit for this as his partner. But we kind of got our own thing going because we wanted to -- we wanted to do it because it was right. We wanted to because it was necessary. That's kind of how I got involved in the movement.
I didn't know anything about the National Organization for Victim Assistance or I didn't know much about some of the great leaders in this country who are still out there who I've come to know. The Norm Earlys and the Karen McLaughlins, the Anne Seymours, the Marlene Youngs, the John Steins and the Bob Prestons and the Bob Dentons and all these guys who are national pioneers.
I was just a little guy in a little place trying to figure out how to win a case and do my thing and stay in office. That was a long answer to a short question, but that's how I got started.
Seymour: Editorial comment. I'm so glad you brought up Mike DeWine because my first job was at National MADD in May. By July we had passed the 21 Drinking Age Bill and he was our patron on that.
Schenck: Mike's a true, true victim advocate and a true prosecutor and he remains so to this day. He has it in his heart and we've always been able to count on Mike for support whether it's constitutional amendment or it's VOCA or VAWA or whatever. He's always been there for us.
Seymour: I just put him on the list to be interviewed for this. So thank you for that. That was very cool. So let me -- 30 years ago or over 30 years ago -- you just aged yourself, Bill.
Schenck: It's actually will be 32 years in December that I took that job in this little county. At that time there were 90,000 people there. It's almost doubled in population, unlike most of Ohio.
Seymour: Isn't that amazing.
Schenck: Yeah. It is amazing.
Seymour: Well, describe the field of victims' rights and services in 30, 32 years ago and also if you can a little bit about the context of the era. We're talking about the very beginning of the 1970s.
Schenck: From my perspective the field was non-existent. There was a victim witness program that probably was started as the result of LEAA funds I suspect in the county next to me, Montgomery County, where Dayton is. That's a pretty big jurisdiction. About 600,000 people.
Really didn't know much about it. Now in retrospect we know that the movement was beginning and there were starting things that were starting to happen. But from my perspective there really wasn't any. You didn't have any law enforcement based support for victims. You didn't have any communications structure.
You had virtually no laws on the books. It was pretty much a wasteland, I would describe it.
Seymour: [B ROLL]. Bill, what was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues faced in the earlier days -- but you can talk about today if you want to -- in affecting change for crime victims?
Schenck: I think that the question is a very good question. I think the answer is that the greatest challenge should be the greatest challenges because there are a number of challenges that remain. They are virtually the same challenges that we've had from day one.
The greatest challenge to victims' rights is inherent in our federal Constitution because the federal Constitution rightfully and correctly provides for an accusatorial system, a system where you are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. It doesn't mean actual innocence. But because of that presumption of innocence which I support and believe is the only way it provides certain basic rights of due process to the accused.
Even to the convicted. Even after conviction it continues. It's deep-rooted historically, and now for 200 plus years it is what is taught in law school. It is what most of us in this country have come to believe and understand. So when you start balancing against that certain rights and procedural safeguards for witnesses and for crime victims you naturally are going to get a reaction that will -- that infringes on the due process rights of the accused. That infringes on our system.
I do not agree with that, and it does not have to infringe at all. When you look at Payne vs. Tennessee, the Supreme Court's very, very important decision in what can and cannot be brought into the death penalty phase -- the punishment phase of a capital case, we see the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has, in fact, acknowledged the need for victims' rights and some balance.
But in law schools to this day we don't teach victimology. We don't teach victims' rights, and we don't really even give it any respect whatsoever even after these thirty years at most law schools. That is a challenge. That is a problem.
In a more narrow sense the challenges and problems come from within. Getting judged to be more victim sensitive has actually proven to be more easy than I thought it would be. There was resistance in the early years. But that's changed. Maybe because judges realized that's the lay of the land politically. Maybe because they just sense that it's the right thing.
But I have found less and less resistance from the courts. That's been a bright spot. But it's still a challenge. In our jurisdiction the judges allow our victim advocates to attend all phases including in-chambers conferences.
They are never excluded. So we're very fortunate in our jurisdiction. But nonetheless the judiciary is always a challenge. Law enforcement is a challenge. Law enforcement in my judgment, generally speaking, has not been and continues to not be very victim-sensitive, generally speaking. There are exceptions to the rule.
There's certainly officers who are. I think that probably this also is historical. Law enforcement officers are taught to be the tough guys and get the bad guys and do this. But officers need, I think, to be screened to have people who are likely to be victim sensitive and that we screen people with personalities to work in the Marriott Hotel.
Can't we screen people who work in the law enforcement field to be sensitive to victims. Is it so complicated? I mean do we have to reinvent the wheel to get cops who will be nice to victims. Now police would rise up and resent this statement. But if they were in my posture, my position, many are just not very sensitive in terms of how they deal with victims.
I think they remain a serious challenge, and that needs to be changed. The whole philosophy, the training, the screening, the hiring, all of it. Money is always going to be the single greatest challenge because too many people continuously say it's not mandated. It's not part of the Constitution. Well, we have a Constitutional Amendment. I know, I know. But really this is dispensable.
There still remains a strong feeling throughout government, the bureaucrats, those enlightened individuals at the local level who hand out the money. They're not believers. They're not believers until they're victimized themselves.
They don't believe. The county commissioners, the county supervisors, the people who run the government think that parks and recreation is more important than victims' rights. That's a serious challenge and that's my belief and experience. Other challenges.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is to get the public really involved in the same way that MADD did, SADD did, Parents of Murdered Children did. We've made progress. The truth of the matter is there is still a significant percentage of our population who has little or no faith in criminal justice.
Doesn't matter whether it's the well to do or the ne'er do well. Matters not whether you're in east central L.A. or in Columbus, Ohio or upper Arlington. People don't have a lot of faith in the criminal justice system. Part of the reason they don't is based upon personal experience and of course what they read.
That's changing. I have seen a slight swing in the pendulum back towards more faith in the system than there was probably. There -- I am very much a fan of the Warren Court. That may seem contradictory to what I'm saying here today. I am a great fan of Hugo Black and Earl Warren and others.
I feel that those decisions were necessary and needed. Unfortunately they brought about a great deal of crisis in terms of faith in the system. A lot of people thought these technicalities weren't necessary and this and that. That caused problems. Total lack of common sense in how we released prisoners from jail, the parole system.
You get sentenced to 10 years and you do 18 months. All these kinds of stupid things created a huge, huge crisis of confidence. Much of that has changed, for the better I might add. We have truth in sentencing. But still, in spite of all, many people just don't think the system's good and it's right and that it does justice.
Therefore, that makes it difficult for us in the victims' movement to truly have the faith of the victim and the faith of the witness to cooperate with us. So we start out in many instances way behind the eight ball. So the challenge really is for us to see the broad picture and get the faith of the people.
We have to reach out and educate. We have to reach out and involve our society and our community and make them participate, understand and support criminal justice or we're gonna have a much greater crisis then anyone could ever, ever imagine.
It's interesting to look at the terrorist situation now and see where all that goes with this movement. I'm not sure where that's all headed, but I think that's gonna ultimately become a challenge to us as well. So those are the -- to my perspective -- in my perspective -- the same challenges we've always had to a greater or lesser degree.
As I say money is always a challenge. We also have the internal challenge of turf wars. We always have had that. We probably always will. We have to communicate with each other. We've got to truly put the cause ahead of our ego. That's very difficult to do even for myself. So, those are all my thoughts. I'll probably think of some more later.
Seymour: That was great. [B ROLL]. Looking at the field over 30 years, have we had any failures? Are there any failures that you can think of that have affected our field?
Schenck: I guess failure is a relative term. Have we had any total, outright failure? No, no. Not when you have as many states that have enacted Constitutional Amendments. We've got a failure in the sense that we've yet been unable to get a federal Constitutional Amendment.
I'm not sure I'd call it a failure. I would call it a work in progress. But up to this point we have not been successful in accomplishing that. We have not truly been successful yet in getting all segments and sectors of the system to truly really from the heart accept victims' rights. Some have accepted it for political necessity.
Some have accepted it because they're legally required. But that like civil rights, I mean truly winning over people's hearts, we haven't failed by any means. We've made progress. But I would prefer to say we've not yet been successful or we still have a work in progress. We haven't outright failed anywhere.
We've really had far, far more successes than I would have thought we would have. I think they've been reasonably balanced and restrained against the rights of the accused. We have not been as successful as I would like to have see us be in terms of reparation or restitution.
I won't call it failure, but I think one area that we continue to lag is true enforcement of restitution. We can't just look at the victims' movement in terms of sexual assault, murder, physical pain, abduction. We have to realize that when someone's home is broken into and they lose heirlooms that is devastating and traumatic to them also.
Property crimes can be very devastating. All crime is indeed -- it unclothes people. It exposes them. It destroys their dignity. It's a total action of disrespect. It affects -- it affects a child when her bicycle is stolen. We need to not get lost in the importance of dealing with all crime victims.
Restitution can be helpful. It's not the answer maybe. But we need to really work on that aspect I think. Be as creative as possible and keep the pressure on these offenders. It's too easy to just to kind of say well we've got more important things to deal with. In that sense we need a greater commitment. We need a greater commitment from those who govern -- financially and otherwise to the movement so we can in fact not have to pick and choose which victims we shall service.
I mean -- and if you want to look at cost analysis it's a lot less expensive to do it properly and deal with victims than it is not because in the long run if the studies are done and we look at what really happens to people who are victimized the cost ultimately will rear it's ugly head somewhere.
So we're far better off even from a cost standpoint to properly deal with these issues early on. That's my belief.
Seymour: You're so right. Thank you. What do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and victims' needs and victims' issues?
Schenck: I jotted down when I looked at that question four or five thoughts. I feel that the most significant accomplishment or driving force was the passage of the Victims of Crime Act in 1984 because I think that single action by our Federal government gave a great deal of credibility to this movement that it badly needed 18 years ago this month.
I don't know when it was passed, but I know it was passed in '84. I think that it really is the single-most important engine to pull and drive the train in terms of making some money available so even the smallest little rural offices could have some money to do something.
Of course that inspired -- in Ohio there are 88 counties. We were the second program in Ohio. Now I think all of the 88 or if not all, all of them but one or two have an actual office dedicated in principle at least to victims' right. So to me that's the foremost thing.
Seymour: You actually testified.
Schenck: Yeah, I did.
Seymour: Do you feel like sharing just a little bit.
Schenck: That happened because in...
Seymour: You were DA then.
Schenck: I was the DA. I got elected to office the first time in 1980. When Mike DeWine left he went on to the State Senate. He was in the State Senate for two years and then he ran for Congress. He was elected. He was in Congress for 10 years. In 1984, he was on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives.
When this legislation was put forward for consideration by both houses of the Congress he conducted hearings. He was a Minority Leader. At that time the House was controlled by the Democratic Party, and he was the Minority Leader on Criminal Justice for the Sub-committee that was dealing with VOCA. He and ultimately Peter Rodino who was Chair of Judiciary invited me to come and testify.
I did. I went to Washington and stayed in this hotel there. That's when I met John Stein actually, first time and...
...spent three or four hours with him talking about my testimony. I testified. Later on thereafter of course it was passed and at least I had some small part in that. I think that was a big, big factor. I think that other very significant accomplishments if you will.
The many, many states who have enacted through referendum or otherwise a Constitutional Victims Bill of Rights or an amendment if you will, as general as these amendments may be they certainly give stature and credibility to victims' issues and ultimately give some degree of legal standing.
We have yet to see what that will be and on what terms. The many fears, the many fears that the prosecutors have had -- you know we talked about challenges, and I neglected to tell about the challenge we face from within our own prosecutors. It's amazing how many prosecutors and DA's in this country themselves are victim-insensitive.
Hard to imagine, but absolute fact. Probably a huge plurality are victim-insensitive. In my own office I fight this battle among my 19 lawyers. So the fears of the prosecutors as to what would come from these constitutional amendments has not come to fruition.
I doubt that it ever will. I think that the legislation that has been passed has been tremendous in the various states because that gives you -- that puts real teeth into the process. I think that the real great accomplishments are the development whether they be independent-based, police-based, community-based as we say, church-based, prosecutor-based. I don't care.
The various programs that have come to be throughout the country to support victims' right is in and of itself the greatest accomplishment, and it comes from many things. I think that what we have seen certain groups which me might say they are lobbying groups if you will or special interest groups -- I can name you one. Whether it's MADD or Parents of Murdered Children or any other group that's out there they have accomplished a lot.
I don't know that I would say they are an accomplishment. But they have accomplished a lot because they have come to understand the reality of politics in the criminal justice system. Whatever it is, whatever oil we need on the wheel, I mean, that's reality until the system -- or unless the system changes.
So there've been a lot of accomplishments. I think that we have truly heightened awareness to an extent that in and of itself it has made people more willing and more trusting to report crime, to cooperate. I think the victim -- the victim and witness intimidation statutes and the penalties that are not meted out for those who attempt to intimidate and scare and frighten off witnesses, I think that's been an accomplishment that's been helpful to us as prosecutors.
But that's a few of the things that I think are significant. I think VAWA -- I think it's another important step. I think the domestic violence statutes that are now enacted -- the stalking statutes. And more importantly the seriousness that the courts and police now give domestic violence is a good sign.
These are sill some of the most difficult cases to prosecute for various reasons. But progress is being made. If we can just get to the point that we can deal with the root cause of domestic violence and the fears that the victims have I hope that comes. That's a later question. So we'll address that...
Seymour: [B ROLL]. What is needed today, Bill, to continue the growth and also the professionalism of our field? What's needed and if there's anything missing?
Schenck: I think -- when I looked at that question before I came here I had several thoughts. One thought I have is that I do think it's important that we have certification processes of some kind in all the states. I mean, you know, to what extent and how extensive? Well, I don't know.
We started out with law enforcement and they gave em a hundred hours of classes. Now we have all kinds of continuing education classes. When I became a lawyer, we had no continuing legal education. But it is a good thing. I think that it is important that we have people who are trained and certified in this field.
Better up to someone than myself to determine just what that should be. I will say that I do believe victim advocates need true training in terms of the law, the constitution, the history of the movement, its problems, the political aspects of it. To be truly effective at this, at least they have to truly understand the system, how it works, have the better than average grasp of the terminology.
I think that these folks probably need a lit -- some kind of training in counseling of some kind, in psychology. I think that they need probably some degree of training -- legal training. I mean, not law school, of course, but they need some legal training.
And, frankly, as with many of these professions, we've got to make these salaries competitive enough that we can get the best and the brightest into the field. Of course, there is a double-edge sword. The people that are there just for the money, they don't have heart. And if they're just there for the heart, you know... Well...
I mean... But I think that we will be better off if we look at making sure... It's a wonderful thing to have somebody who's a very sensitive, caring human being, and that's great in that we want those kinds of persons. We also want people who can be effective, effective politically, who can truly keep control, don't set victims up for failure or don't set victims up for disappointment, those who can walk that fine line of partnership with the DA and partnership with the victim.
It's a -- it's a tough line. Takes special people to do it.
Seymour: A lot of newbies in the field and you have probably noticed at this conference that we are old.
Schenck: Well, I am old. [B ROLL]
Seymour: All of the newbies to the field, what advice can you give to them? The professionals, but also there's a lot of volunteers and victims here and in the field, what good, solid advice, Bill, would you give them?
Schenck: Same advice I'd give anybody who wants to be a trial lawyer, same advice I'd give to anybody who wants to be a professional golfer, the same advice to anybody doing anything. You know, if you think you're gonna be good at this just by being around it and you want to be, then that's just about how good you're gonna be.
You know, if you want to be good at raising children, you're gonna have to work at it. If you want to be good at running that camera, you have to work at it. This doesn't just happen, you know. You don't become a victim advocate and a successful one and make a real difference just because you want to or have a heart to.
You have to work at this, you know? Tiger Woods didn't become the best golfer in history until he went on the range and he played golf until his hands bled. If you want to be a good advocate, you've got to be willing to take the hard crawls after hours.
You've got to be willing to take the unintended, benign abuse, if there is such a thing, of -- of -- of people who are frustrated, who have seen their children raped, who have seen their parents killed, who are gonna take their frustrations out on you. And you have to learn this craft.
It is a craft. It -- it -- it -- it's -- it's something that takes time. You learn through experience. Thus, you must be very patient and very persistent. Persistence is, indeed, the oil that makes everything in the world happen. It's persistence. Finally this guy keeps coming back, coming back, coming back, coming back and finally you say, "Okay. Okay."
It's like your kids. "Okay, just go. Do it". You know? A good advocate must be dogged, patient. You know, you -- there's not a realization yet as to just -- for some people what's really involved in being an advocate, you know, to be the best, to be a true victim professional.
You really, really, really have to put the hours and time in. And I would say get all the training you can get, do all the reading that you can do to try to understand this. And in the final analysis, you get -- you need to figure out one thing. Is this what you really want to do? Do you want to do this?
Cause if you don't want to do this and your heart isn't in it, then you need to get out. You need to move on. If you're not a trial lawyer, you shouldn't be in courtrooms. I mean, if you don't want to do it, don't stay because it's a good paying job or you like the people. Don't -- don't -- don't do it.
Move on. You know, make a million dollars. Do something. If you're in it for the money, you're gonna be really disappointed. If you're gonna carry a chip on your shoulder, you're not gonna be happy. You're not gonna be effective. So ask yourself after an appropriate amount of time, "Do I really want to do this?"
And if the answer is, "I really want to do this," then work, work, work hard to learn how to do it effectively. And learn the politics of it and learn how to use politics and pressure to get what you need, cause that's what you have to do. [B ROLL]
Seymour: Vision for the future of our field.
Schenck: My vision probably has been stated in answers to other questions. My vision would be a field that is truly, truly accepted as an equal, a real equal in criminal justice. A field that is truly professional, as professional as I want law enforcement to be, as I want judges to be, as I want prosecutors to be, as I want defense lawyers to be.
I would like to see a requirement that all lawyers, not just prosecutors, all lawyers are required, along with their sensitivity training, their professionalism courses and their ethics, to take courses so many hours per year or biennium in understanding the plight of a victim. I understand that they have a job to do.
But, you know, there's a way to do it. And they don't have to be, you know, for the sake of show so harsh. You know, you can be an effective lawyer for the defendant and still be a kind, caring human being. We had a nursing home fatality in my jurisdiction that is in litigation now where four elderly people died as the result of a mix up in the oxygen.
It was nitrogen that went to the system. It killed four of em. And we had two different defendants -- two different corporate defendants. Those defense lawyers who represented the one corporation wanted to talk with the victims and try to negotiate a plea. And they were so offensive and so arrogant, they made the victims even angrier.
The other lawyers on the other side, when they talked to the victims and the survivors, were so eloquent and sensitive and caring. What a difference. Truth is it didn't get resolved and it will go to trial now in October. But it makes a difference. People like to be treated with respect and dignity.
And if you treat them with respect and dignity and kindness, you know what, they will understand your role. And they may not like what you're doing and what you have to do, but they'll accept that. And that's important ultimately to the bigger, broader picture of people accepting criminal justice in this country.
Defense lawyers need to understand they have a responsibility to further criminal justice for their own means and for their own goals too. If they want the system to continue to provide due process and rehabilitation, as they call it, for their accused clients, and they want to effect -- effectively support this system, then they need to get beyond their own narrow-minded ego and legal fees and what they -- and their adversarial, you know, mantra, and get in the game here and understand that they've got a responsibility too to victims of crime.
And that's been lost upon all of the people who administer justice in this country and upon those great legal scholars, those great, professional academicians who spend their time figuring out how they can somehow get people out of a death penalty instead of thinking about, you know, other issues as well.
A generalization, but a fair one I dare say. I have a vision of the future that will infect -- embrace a tent where we all, all can gather for the sermon and we all can work toward the common good of society while doing our jobs within an adversarial framework. That would be the promise of land that I would see. Is it reality? Time will tell.
Seymour: My last question, Bill. What is your greatest fear for our field for its future?
Schenck: My greatest fear is the same fear I have...I'm a very strong advocate of capital punishment. Will not go there with this. That has very little to do with victims, per se. I have my deep-seeded reasons after much thought over most of my life about capital punishment and I am strongly an advocate of capital punishment.
And I think that the system has made a mockery of capital punishment. They put out all this foolishness about all these innocent people. The truth is there's never ever yet been put to death any documented case of an innocent person. Not one. Not one. I'll get off that tangent and say what is my fear?
What we've seen is by well-meaning people who, in my judgment, don't get the broad picture and who exploit the situation, we've seen a backlash -- we've seen a backlash against capital punishment. You know, oh, my goodness, this ungodly fear that, you know, we're gonna put innocent people to death.
I'm sensitive to that and I care about that. And I make the decision as to whether it's capital punishment. I've prosecuted four persons and they're on death row. And, you know, I've had 25 opportunities and I've only exercised in a handful of cases. I'm afraid that the same back...
Where does it end after they abolish capital punishment? That's clearly what they want to do. What's next? I suppose that we have to be vigilant that we don't have a backlash against the victims' movement. It's not likely, but to take for granted our place in the system and to take for granted the gaines we've made is to be reckless.
And if I have a fear, that would be the number one. That we may ultimately fall by the wayside with those same persons who in the name of due process and convicting innocent people...I don't think that will...I do not see that happening. It's not a real good analogy to capital punishment, but that's my greatest fear.
My second greatest fear is that during economic crisis and hard times economically the first person to feel the budget acts will be the victims' programs, victims' movement, victims' services, etc. That's always a fear. I think we have to also be very cautious about complacency in general and continue to have strong victims' organizations.
Unions, if you will, I suppose is not the best word coming out of my Republican mouth, but I would say call it what you may. We need specific interest groups, groups out there to represent us in the legislatures. We need to continue to get the good people out there who have money to support this cause.
This cause is every bit as important to the well being of this nation and to criminal justice as anything. And those are...I don't think I'm paranoid, but I just would say that after...I've seen how quickly things can change. I've seen how a case can go sour in a day. I've seen how legislation can be repealed, courts can change their positions.
As part of my vision, I hope that our judges will continue to progress in a positive fashion. And they really have. But you've got to be vigilant. So my fear is that we might not be vigilant enough. And if we're not careful, we may be indeed the first victims of -- of -- of these chops that occur.
Seymour: (Do we have time to ask a follow up to this?) Short answer, but you really hit something that I think is very important. The people who are newer to the field, who don't under...I think...
Schenck: Well, they didn't have to struggle to get here.
Seymour: Okay, that's where I'm going with you.
Seymour: And you talk about complacency.
Seymour: What can we instill in them so that it's...you know, you were talking earlier about like not being a job. So that's what I -- that's what I want your, you know, final word on the official status to be...
Schenck: It's very difficult for us to make our children understand how hard we had it, as it was for my father to make me understand, as my grandfather to make him understand. You know, my grandfather walked five miles in the snow to the -- to get on the horse to ride to school in the cold.
And... You know, and my father told me, you know, we -- we -- we -- we couldn't waste food because all the children in China were starving. And now I have children who don't bother to pick up their underwear off the floor or turn off the light. Now am I -- am I my father's son and my grandfather's grandson?
Certainly. And is it the same? To some extent, except one big difference. This country has never known -- never know the continued prosperity that it has had in the last 40 years, ups and downs, but continued prosperity with more and more money and more and more opportunity and more and more wealth.
And inevitably, any person who has not truly struggled, whether it's the civil rights movement...if you didn't march with Martin Luther King, it's gonna be hard to make somebody understand what it was like to march with Martin Luther King. You know?
I mean, I rode a freedom bus and got locked up in a jail personally. If my children haven't experienced this, then they are not going to understand and appreciate in the same sense. However, we certainly -- our generation has a responsibility to do all that we can to educate and talk to the newbies, if you will, or the younger ones coming into the movement now, and make them understand just how hard it was to get here and not to take it for granted.
But the reality is, you know, you really can't experience what it's like to get hit at the line of scrimmage until you've been hit at the line of scrimmage. You can show films about these guys getting knocked back, but until one of these linebackers knocks you on your backside, you've got a hard way...
There is no easy answer to that. All we can do is -- is -- is preach and make them aware of the history. You know, this particular oral history, probably it should be required reading, so to speak, for -- at least part of it -- parts of it should be. And we just ultimately have to trust this because whether we like it or not, Anne, it is going to come into the hands of the next generation.
And to some large extent, we're not gonna be able to control what happens. And that may seem like almost a fatalistic answer, but we can do what we can do. We can talk to them. We can lead by example. But no one -- no one can truly understand the way we do until they experience it.
And we won't experience what they do either, so to a certain extent, we'll have to have faith, whether we like it or not.
Seymour: Well, anything you want to add that I didn't ask? Something you want to talk about for like four minutes?
Schenck: Only thing that I would say...it's not really educational. I would say that to anyone watching this that I believe more satisfaction and more self-worth has been gained for me personally as a result of my work in the victims' field and the victims' movement, and in really one on one with crime victims.
And I spent close to 300 hours last year working with a 13 year old boy who had been raped and sodomized every single day by his lover -- his 35-year-old lover who formed this unbelievable relationsh...Well, we don't have time in four minutes. We don't have time in four hours.
I spent 300 hours with this kid. This kid's been adopted, turned around, active in sports, doing well in school and seemingly, at least short-term, made a recovery. To me, that gives me great satisfaction. And I would encourage my brother and sister prosecutors in the time they have left, who might somehow see this or part of this, to become involved in victims' rights.
And use this opportunity to help these people. And the worst that can happen is you'll feel better for it and you'll be more dedicated and you'll be more effective. And those are -- that's -- that's -- that's the best I can say.
|This project was supported by Grant Number 2002-VF-GX-0009 awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this product are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.|