An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Hook: Could you spell your name?
Twist: Yes, it's Steve Twist, S-T-E-V-E, T-W-I-S-T.
Hook: Great. Hi, Steve.
Hook: Steve, tell us the context of how you got involved in the victims' movement -- when and what reasons.
Twist: Well, like so many others of us, I was led into the victims' movement by a combination of having a solid mentor who I really believe was one of the nation's founders of the movement, Frank Carrington. And then so many compelling stories of injustice -- one after another that I saw... that Frank and I first met when I was a law clerk in the early 1970s in the Governor's office in Arizona. When I met Frank, who was then the Assistant Director of an organization called Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, that was headquartered in Chicago, they later moved on to San Francisco. But I first made contact with him when their offices were in Chicago and Frank was quite an advocate, even in the early 70s for fundamental reforms of the criminal justice system so that it would become more victim centered.
As you know, Frank went on to be the driving force behind the establishment of the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, after President Reagan was elected and it was Frank's friendship with Ed Meese that led to that and led to Frank being appointed as one of the members of the Task Force. But you know, Frank and I had a lot in common. We enjoyed each other's company, I learned a lot from him. And together, after I graduated from law school I went to work for the Navajo Nation, lived in Window Rock, Arizona, worked for the Tribal Council and the Police Department as their lawyer. And Frank and I decided that we would bring the idea of victims' rights to the Navajo Nation. And in 1974, we collaborated on drafting a resolution that the Tribal Council in Window Rock passed in 1975 that established the Navajo Nation Victims' Rights Commission. It was the first of its kind anywhere in the country. And its focus was to identify issues and challenges for crime victims in the justice system in Indian country and that was Frank's and my first collaboration together.
And he always was an inspiration for me and he and Mary both were such good friends and it was such a devastating loss to our movement to have him die in the fire and we all miss him greatly. But are always spurred on by his vision and his strength of purpose to reform the criminal justice system. So that's how it started for me.
Hook: And so the first victim program for you was in Indian country.
Twist: Yes, yes. One that we got started in 1975.
Hook: Describe the field of victims' rights and services when you entered the field, in general, the context of it and what was going on in your world.
Twist: Well it was... it was barren in the... in the mid-70s when I got out of law school. First of all, in law school there was not a word ever mentioned of victims' rights or... or even much attention paid to the victim in any way during any of the law school classes that you would otherwise think would have touched on that -- not in criminal law, not in criminal procedure, not in Constitutional law. Victims were truly forgotten. And it quite literally is true as was said many times to the President's Task Force in the early '80s -- victims were just another piece of evidence in the criminal case. Our country had come a long way to that point. I mean at the founding of the country, victims were their own prosecutors. Victims played an integral role in the prosecution and the commencement of a criminal case and the prosecution of a criminal case and seeking penalties, consequences in a criminal case.
In fact it was as late as the 1830s when deTouqueville was writing his book about Democracy in America that he observed that the offices of the public prosecutor were few. And this was well into the 19th Century. But gradually the country began to move to public prosecutor offices and after that started they picked up pretty quickly and by the middle of the 20th Century, victims were relegated to just this status of being mere evidence. And that was clearly true when I went through law school and clearly true when I graduated.
Hook: And today in law school?
Twist: Well, there is just now beginning a revolution in the law school curricula. Thanks to Professor Doug Beloof, who has written the first casebook on victims in criminal procedure. There is a curriculum now for this to be included in law school classes. Doug's book is being used in several law schools now around the country. In fact, I teach the victims' rights course at the law school at Arizona State University and I've done so now for several years. So we're starting to see a change in the law schools but really we have a hope and a vision and a passion that every law school in the country won't be able to get away with teaching criminal law or criminal procedure without talking about victims' rights. We're not there yet, though.
Hook: What was your greatest challenge...the challenge that you and your colleagues have faced in affecting the change?
Twist: Well, as a prosecutor for many years and as serving as the Chief Assistant Attorney General for 12 years. If you are motivated to give victims a more active role in their own cases, it became very apparent that the first thing that needed to be done was... was reform the law. Because what we had seen grow up is a criminal justice system that was properly focused on the rights of the accused but over a period of time excessively - and when I say excessively I mean not to denigrate in any way the important rights that we have in the Constitution for people who are accused of crimes, but because that had been such a primary focus of all of the caseload, the juris prudence that had built up around criminal cases-- victims were really forgotten, not just in reality in the courtroom and the halls of the prosecutors and the police, but forgotten in the law also. So fundamentally we saw it as a challenge that we needed to begin to change the law, reform the law.
I, through a variety of different circumstances, was called upon in Arizona in 1976, a couple years after Frank and I started this work on the Navajo Nation, and a year after the Navajo Nation Tribal Council passed this Victims' Rights Commission, I found myself in, back in Phoenix working for the police chiefs in Arizona and began a project to advise Arizona's criminal code. And in 1976 and 1977, I was called upon ultimately to rewrite the criminal code in Arizona and I did that. The legislature passed it in 1977, it became effective in 1978. And we wrote into that criminal code, the very first beginnings of some victims' rights statutes, right to restitution, was written into the criminal code in 1977. And some minimal -- as I look back on it now -- some minimal rights to notice but it was a beach net of sorts to begin to write victims into the law in Arizona.
And then in 1978, I, the code became effective in October, and I accepted an offer to go to work in the Arizona Attorney General's office and I served there for 12 years as Chief Assistant Attorney General for the state of Arizona. And during that period of time, continued to work with Frank and others in the field as I began to learn more about the victims' rights field and frankly began to work more directly with victims in criminal cases. So these issues then began to develop very quickly. More and more cases we saw where victims were shunned to the side, more and more court decisions where a court seemed to express a lot of defense for the rights of the accused but no interest at all in... in even recognizing, much less defending, the rights of victims. So we started to write more statues that addressed victims' rights and we put those statutes into the Arizona criminal code in the early '80s and I began to become more active nationally. That's when I first met in the... in the probably around 1983 or '84 I met Anne Seymour who was then working for the Sunny von Bulow Victim Advocacy Center in Texas. And we invited Anne to come out and teach us all more about the victims' movement. I was then just for the first time meeting John Stein and Marlene Young at NOVA and we invited them to come out and teach us more about the victims' movement.
And so as I began to learn more about what they were working on and beginning to undertake, we saw more criminal cases. One I remember I prosecuted along with Mel McDonald, a pair of brothers who were guilty and ultimately convicted of hijacking a Purolator armored car that was taking money to the banks in Northern Arizona. They got uniforms and they got a light bar to put on their white car and they made it appear as though they were State Police, Department of Public Safety officers and they pulled over this van and, unfortunately they were able to subdue the guards, kidnap the guards. And they took these two men, Russell Dempsey and Cecil Newkirk, who I remember vividly to this day -- this happened in the late '70s and I didn't get involved in the case until there was a reversal of their first conviction and retrial. But they took these two men and while they were alive they put them each into big canvas bags that they had made for this purpose, filled the bags with rocks and dumped them alive into Lake Mead, the border between Arizona and Nevada. And I met Lola Newkirk, Cecil's widow, after I became involved in the case and I learned firsthand how important it was for some victims to be involved in every single aspect of the case.
Lola, on her own, and out of respect and devotion to her husband went to every single proceeding that she could learn of and find out about. When their case went to the United States Supreme Court at one point and there was an argument before the United States Supreme Court, Lola flew herself back to Washington so that she could be there. And during the retrial that I handled, she was not allowed to be in the courtroom during the trial and that memory of the harm that that inflicted on her was very impactful for me and I resolved that we were gonna change the law and make sure that victims had a right to be in the courtroom.
Hook: What were some of the tactics and strategies you used back in those days -- even you could say 'secrets' that you developed in order to push this agenda forward to get some compliance from the system to implement the laws?
Twist: Well, unfortunately, like I said, the laws were just too thin. I mean we really realized that what we needed to do was push for significant legal reform. And so with this experience of the prosecution of Michael and Patrick Poland and meeting Lola Newkirk, and just more and more cases came along where the plight of the victim was obvious and apparent if unseen by the court system. We pushed on for more legal reforms and then there was a decision by the Arizona Supreme Court, a case called State versus Ault um, A-U-L-T, and the Arizona Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a clearly guilty child molester who had broken into the home Christmas Eve, into the home of a family in Yuma, Arizona and molested a nine-year-old little girl while she was sleeping and then escaped. And muddy tracks were led away from their home and up to his house and ultimately the Supreme Court of Arizona reversed his conviction because they said that some evidence had been introduced that shouldn't have been introduced.
There was no question about the fact that he was guilty and a pedophile and would do it again. And when I read that opinion, I was working in the Attorney General's office still, it was 1987 as I recall, when I read that opinion I got so motivated to once and for all begin a movement for victims' rights in our state. I wrote a pretty long Op Ed piece for the Arizona Republic that they were nice enough to publish and it called for a constitutional amendment for victims' rights. So we went the very next session of the legislature to try and get the amendment passed through the legislature. We had a number of grassroots organizations in the state who came forward, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a local organization called We the People in Tucson, a number of grassroots organizations that came forward, and I should say, all the prosecutors came forward and supported a Constitutional amendment for victims' rights. We tried in the 1988 legislative session to get it passed and greatly disappointing that we didn't. But it was in face of stiff opposition from, of all places, the Arizona court... courts, the Arizona Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court came down to the legislature to lobby against a Constitutional amendment for victims' rights. Other judges came out to lobby against it. Of course, the criminal defense attorneys lobbied against it. And we were very close in the legislature but we just didn't have enough... enough votes to get it passed so we tried again the next year. Again the Supreme Court opposed it and finally what we decided, after failing twice to get it on the ballot by the legislature, in Arizona we have the initiative and we took out petitions, wrote it even more strongly than... than we would have been willing to agree to in the legislative process and circulated petitions. We got strong support from the corporate community throughout the state, we had lots of volunteers circulating petitions, we were able to raise enough money to get paid signature circulators and because of that we were able to put it on the ballot. And so it was on the ballot in November of 1990, and passed overwhelmingly when the people had a chance to vote on it.
Hook: That was a powerful constituency to build on your, on behalf of the amendment.
Twist: Yeah, we had the business community, we had victim advocate groups, we had prosecutors, law enforcement all in favor of the amendment. And it was, I think this confluence of events that... that brought certainly the victims and the... and the decades of injustice that they had suffered to push for the amendment and the... the prosecutors who, in some states frankly haven't been as supportive of victims' rights, but in Arizona because we were starting to see these... the court decisions that were hostile, not just to victims' rights but to public safety rights that brought the prosecutors to the table and the... and the business community was just very supportive of... of anything that the victims' groups were pushing for. We had a number of... of strong businesses, Greyhound Dial at the time stepped forward and made a significant contribution and the Chairman, John Teets was a real leader in the business community in that regard.
So basically this... the tail end of the 70s and the decade of the '80s was a time of learning more and more about the injustice. And we did a lot of things, we wrote a lot of new laws in the Attorney General's office in Arizona we started in the mid-80s the very first Victim Witness Division in an AG's office where we reached out to crime victims, gave them notice of the status of cases on appeal, tried to explain court processes to them, represented through the Victim Witness Division, victims in the courtroom with advocates who went in on cases where we handled the direct prosecution because of a conflict or something that the county attorneys had. So we were very actively involved in the '80s writing new laws, having a Victim Witness Division, working with prosecutors around the state, but realized that... that there needed to be fundamental reform.
And in fact, I was invited by the Sunny von Bulow Victim Advocacy Center to make a... a series of three or four speeches at different places around the country-- at a luncheon plenary sessions as part of training programs and... and roundtables that they were holding. And the focus of those remarks in the mid-'80s was "nothing will change"-- fundamentally nothing will change in our country until we can get Constitutional rights for crime victims. And that's a message that, you know, we started to talk about in the... in the mid-80s. Finally accepted the challenge ourselves to get a Constitutional Amendment in Arizona, started in '87, finally got it in 1990. And then the very next year, 19 -- the... .the Amendment passed in November of 1990 and in the January of 1991, I... I drafted a Victims' Right Implementation Act for the legislature to consider and they passed it and it became effective, with some time to get ready for it, it became effective in January of... of 1992.
Hook: Have there been failures, areas that just haven't been addressed?
Twist: Well, one of the things that we know now is that the best statutes, even the best state Constitutional Amendments, are not enough to change a culture that has become so steeped in... in its focus only on the rights of the defendant or the rights of the convicted person. So I think I would say at this point it is a failure -- all of this reform, all of the best intentions that 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.
Hook: What do you perceive to be one of the greatest accomplishments that has promoted victims rights and needs?
Twist: I think it's a combination of two things -- one is we've got a decade or plus experience with and the other is quite new. The first and fundamental thing are these reforms. And the constitutional rights, there are some, there are... there are 33 states that have state Constitutional Amendments for victims' rights-- some of them are better than others, some are enforceable, some are not. But in states where we have enforceable laws, they promise to make a difference and they have made a difference in some cases. Unfortunately, the second thing that we've needed to do we haven't done until just recently. If you think about the parallel with defendants' rights for a second, defendants' rights were written into the U.S. Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights. It was... it was the very first Congress, James Madison took to the floor of the first Congress and offered the Bill of Rights really as a way to save the Constitution, to save the debate that had been brewing and raging really in the states over ratification.
And there was a lot of concern about whether states would begin to break away. And then when the Bill of Rights was introduced by James Madison, drafted and introduced as a way to sort of bring together the Federalists and the anti-Federalists at the time. And within three months they were passed by the Congress. He proposed twelve amendments, within three years ten of the twelve amendments were ratified and they became an engine for rights to be protected in the new government. But if you think about it, as those rights applied to criminal defendants, it really wasn't until the middle of the 20th Century that those rights began to change the culture of the criminal justice system in our country. It was not until the middle of the 20th Century that the Supreme Court decided that the rights were even applicable to the state criminal justice systems. And in a series of cases after that why the court went on to say one right after another is binding upon the state criminal justice systems, and they were incorporated into those systems through the 14th Amendment.
But even then they were words on paper until what happened -- lawyers took cases on behalf of defendants, came up with arguments, went to court, presented those arguments and got judges to issue opinions that created this whole body of law that... that slowly changed the culture of the justice system from one that had rights for defendants on paper to one that really changed its behavior because of those words on paper. And there's a lot of argument, you know, about this period and we started over here with the pendulum and lawyers brought more and more cases and the pendulum was pushed. And some of us think that maybe the pendulum went too far in favor of the rights of defendants. But whether you, wherever you come down on that debate, one thing is absolute and that is that what changed it from over here to over here are... are a series of cases that were brought by lawyers. And the thing that we haven't had in the victims' movement--we've had a lot of very appropriate and necessary focus on victim advocate programs and support in taking people through the court system and explaining the court system and sitting with people in trial. And it's been very necessary, but maybe what you might think of kind of the softer side of the victims' movement. Now we realize that we need that but also we need kind of a more hard-edged legal advocacy.
We need lawyers who will stand up in courtrooms representing crime victims and say, "Your Honor, you can't do this." And that is exactly what the second part of what we need to do. We've got to have programs that will provide legal services to victims, free legal services to victims, even as the defendant gets free legal services, and focus on making these arguments in court so that we can change the law. Yeah.
Hook: Is, are you talking about legal precedents?
Hook: You need a... a series of legal precedents...
Twist: It's both.
Hook: To fill up all this empty space?
Twist: Right, it's both. I mean, we need legal precedents to be decided by the appellate courts, by the U.S. Supreme Court, by the state Supreme Courts. But we also need to have a lawyer stand in a courtroom, in a trial courtroom and just say, "Apply this law that's on the books," very clearly and very directly. And we started that for this very purpose. We started a legal clinic in Arizona, with support through VOCA. We got a small VOCA grant and two years ago we started a clinic, in partnership, Senator John Kyl and I started an organization called Arizona Voice for Crime Victims several years ago and that statewide organization partnered with the law school at Arizona State University to go after a... a modest VOCA grant and we got it and we started this clinic-- one paid lawyer and lots of volunteers and we provide free legal services. Within weeks of that program beginning, we were getting 60, 70 new cases a month just through word of mouth.
There's such a dramatic need out there for victims to have their own lawyers. And that doesn't say anything about the failure of prosecutors, it just is a clear recognition that prosecutors first and foremost, their duty is to represent the state not the crime victim. And while the interests of the victim and the prosecutor more often than not coincide, there are enough times when they don't. When the victim needs to have that independent voice to assert their rights --that this project is just becoming successful and there's just a huge demand for this service. (Change tape)
Hook: Could you give me some historical background on the Constitutional Amendment, the Federal one?
Twist: Sure. Of course, the idea for a Federal Constitutional Amendment was, first came to prominence in the President's Task Force Report in 1982. Among their many recommendations, indeed the final recommendation that they came out withat the urging of the Attorney General, who was the Attorney General of Washington, who was a member-- Ken Eikenberry. Ken had proposed to the Task Force that there be a Federal Constitutional Amendment and the Task Force, indeed, reported out a recommendation that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution be amended to include for victims the right to be informed, present and heard at all critical stages of the case. And that, of all the many recommendations that were revolutionary, that was probably the most profoundly revolutionary to propose an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
And now as we look back on it 20 years later, how insightful Ken Eikenberry was and the Task Force to follow his lead to make that recommendation because that's the one thing that fundamentally we know now has to be done in order to change the culture of this criminal justice system that still all too often treats victims like evidence. What happened after the amendment proposal was reported out by the Task Force, a number of the leaders of the victims' movement nationally got together under the... the leadership of NOVA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and there was a conference held... Bob Preston was one of the men who presided over it, one of the people who presided over that conference. And... .and there was a conscious decision made at that time -- this was in the mid-80s -- not to pursue a Federal Constitutional Amendment but instead to take a more conservative and... and deliberate approach, perhaps, to get amendments to the state constitutions passed, get state laws and use the states as they were intended, in a way, to be these experiments or laboratories of democracy where... where we could try different ideas and test different language and see what worked and what didn't. And... and indeed that's the... that's the conscious course that was followed and... and back then there were no states with Constitutional Amendments for victims' rights and now there are 33.
In 1995... 1996, we reconvened the National Victims' Constitutional Amendment Network, which is made up of a number of the country's leading victims' rights advocate organizations and leading members met in Breckenridge, Colorado at a little ski home... that ... vacation home that was owned by a friend of Bob Preston. And we decided, we... we discussed and decided whether or not it was time to pursue a Federal Constitutional Amendment now that we had these states in place and... and had really more than a decade of experience with state Constitutional Amendments. And the decision was made to go forward. I was asked to take that decision to Senator John Kyl, who we had discussed as being a... a possible champion for us. And I did that. We left Breckenridge resolved to pursue a Federal Constitutional Amendment. I met shortly thereafter with Senator John Kyl who's one of the two U.S. Senators from Arizona. And Senator Kyl was immediately supportive of the idea, and... and said that he wanted to pursue it, he wanted to pursue it in earnest He realized that if the Constitution was going to be amended that it would have to be a bipartisan effort. And so he immediately decided to reach out to his colleague, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic Senator from California with whom he had had several good experiences in being able to work together.
And he met with Senator Feinstein; she immediately said yes to the idea of working with him and all of us on a crime victims' rights amendment. And in April of... of 1996 during Victims' Rights Week, the very first Federal Constitutional Amendment that we had been working on was introduced. There had actually had been an earlier one introduced by Congresswoman Eliana Ross Layton from Florida in 1991. But it was introduced, never got a lot of support rallying around it because we were all still in the early '90s focused on getting these state Constitutional Amendments passed and implemented beginning our feeble efforts to try to enforce those.
Hook: In hindsight at that time in the... in the '95, was there any... was there any feeling that ah, we should have done it, we should have started right after the Task Force and really gone after this?
Twist: No, excuse me. No, I don't think so. I think our, we... we'd pretty much concluded all along that it was the right thing to do and I think in hindsight, it was the right thing to go after the states first to get a critical mass of states together to show a body of law that was really in... inadequate, in all its grandeur still inadequate to change this culture of the criminal justice system. So literally every year since April of 1996 we've had hearings. The high water mark at this point for the Federal Constitutional Amendment has been three days of debate in April of 2000, on the floor of the Senate. And I have to say again this has been a very bipartisan enterprise. The former Administration, President Clinton, Vice President Gore, have both supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Attorney General Janet Reno came and testified several times on the Hill in the House and the Senate in favor of a Federal Constitutional Amendment for victims' rights. And that was a big step because they acknowledged in their support that these problems that victims face will only be solved with a Federal Constitutional Amendment.
Um, we were never quite able to reach cloture with the former Administration on the language, the precise language of the Amendment. But notwithstanding that, they were supportive of an amendment. Support for an Amendment is found in the platforms of both national parties, the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee. There're a number of strong Democratic leaders in the Senate -- Senator Feinstein, of course, has been the principal champion. But Senator Lieberman has been a co-sponsor, Senator Biden has been a co-sponsor. A number of very strong Democratic leaders in the Democratic Caucus have been supportive of a crime victims' rights amendment so it's been very bipartisan. But the high water mark was in April of 2000. We had three days of debate on the floor of the United States Senate and it became clear -- you know, the... the rules in the Senate are you don't get to vote on an actual proposal until you can get a petition for cloture if there are members of the Senate who want to filibuster, it takes 60 Sen... Senators to close off debate. We think that we were very close. We had 57, 58 Senators but we didn't have sixty.
So seeing the realities of that Senator Kyl and Senator Feinstein decided to pull the amendment. And in the weird way of Washington if we had gotten two, three extra Senators to vote for cloture, we would have gotten 67 to vote for the amendment. That's what you need to pass the amendment -- 67 out of the 100 Senators. But if we had only gotten 60, 'cause it's a lot harder to vote against the amendment, than it is to vote for more debate, and so we feel pretty strongly that we would have had enough Republicans and Democrats. But frankly the challenge for us remains to reach out to more Democratic Senators to try to get their support for the amendment. We're very hopeful, the President now is strongly behind it. I think Senator Lieberman will be a good voice, Senator Feinstein of course will carry on the battle and we're pressing on and getting, I think closer every year that we do this. But it is very frustrating; I have to say it's very frustrating that the members of the Senate and the members of the House have not done this yet.
It is hard to understand... hard to understand the fears that cause them to cling to the status quo when the status quo is so unjust. But we're gonna stay positive- be optimistic and try to make the case.
Hook: Good thanks. Does it continue to be a question of language?
Twist: I don't think so. I don't think it is a question of language as much as it is a concern on the part of some Democratic Senators that we might be infringing on the rights of the accused in some way. And we have tried very hard to explain that that's not the case; in fact (throat clear) one of our leading scholars is Professor Larry Tribe from Harvard University, a Constitutional law scholar, greatly respected in the Democratic Caucus, one of the most eloquent liberals in the country and he strongly supports the Amendment. He strongly supports the Crime Victims' Rights Amendment and has said in testimony and in letters he's written that the fear that this will undermine defendants' rights is groundless. But we still have this challenge. We have the challenge of... of some of the national groups that are constituencies of the Democratic Party, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others who are.. oppose the amendment and unfortunately you know, we need to reach out to them some more, too, and... and try to convince people that this just expands the civil liberties that all Americans enjoy and it's not a zero-sum game.
Hook: What's needed today to continue the growth and professionalism of our field? What's missing?
Twist: Well, first and foremost, the Amendment is missing. I mean nothing fundamentally will change in the culture of this justice system without rights for victims being written into the U.S. Constitution. And more and more stories of injustice and abuse; I mean, the sad truth is with all of these changes that we've been able to bring about today in a courtroom in America. The parents of a murdered child won't be allowed to sit through the trial because some rule will be invoked and they'll be excluded. A woman who has been battered for years won't be notified of her batterer's bail hearing and won't be allowed to tell the judge about her safety needs before a release decision is made. A rape victim somewhere in a courtroom today, won't get notice of the sentencing proceeding, won't be allowed to speak during the sentencing proceeding. A homicide survivor, a family member, loved one, won't be allowed to tell the jury what their recommendation is on a sentence in a capital case even though the defendant and the defendant's family will have that right in that same courtroom today in America.
So one after another, and it's very hard and in my talks in the mid-80s-- nothing's changed since then. I said even the most caring victim advocate, even the most well-trained victim advocate um, finds words impossible to assuage the grief that's caused by the system itself. How do you explain to the parents of a murdered child that the murderer's parents get to be in the courtroom during a sentencing but they don't, or during a trial but they don't? How do you explain these things in the American justice system? So really, 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. And we know through the course of our history, this is the way we change things.
Hook: In which case, what advice can you give to professionalism... professionals and volunteers who've joined our field in the past decade?
Twist: I would say the advice is to continue to fight for... for reform of the laws. Don't think that because we've come this far we've come far enough. We've made a lot of difference and there's a lot of... of very effective support that goes on but... but it's simply wrong for that support to have to try to heal the wounds, not only caused by the crime but caused by the criminal justice system. There's nothing about this system that is inevitable; we are a free people. We don't have to sit back and accept things the way they've always been or always been during our lifetime, we can bring about reform. And... and that's 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.
Hook: And the service providers in the field, the community-based people who consider themselves out there in the trenches, how does one communicate the importance of being heard?
Twist: Well, it's very hard for some of them because typically they work in a government office, they work for a public prosecutor in a prosecutor-based victim witness program or they work for a non-profit 501 (c) 3 organization and people get a little wary of being overly political and they see this perhaps as being something that their boss wouldn't approve of or they're uncertain about whether their boss would approve of it or they don't know if their tax status will be challenged. But I would just encourage people to... to remind themselves that they have a First Amendment right to speak, when they're at home or with their friends or with their family members to use that First Amendment right to speak, to spread the word. Don't assume that someone else is going to... going to do this. 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... that if they have the courage to stand up and exercise their First Amendment right to be heard privately as a private citizen they'll be a part of history; they will change the Constitution and thereby change the culture and thereby bring justice for millions of crime victims around the country.
Hook: If the Amendment is passed, what vision do you have for the future of our field?
Twist: Well, I think there will be a huge challenge. First of all if it's passed by the Congress we'll have seven years, which seems like a long time but in reality will be a very short period of time to get three-fifths of the states to ratify the Amendment. And so that will be the first challenge. And once it's ratified, again which I inevitably believe it will be, then there'll be the challenge of... of starting to enforce it, starting to find the lawyers around the country who will take on the challenge of representing crime victims and asserting their rights in criminal cases and asking courts to enter orders or make appellate decisions that will protect them. And it's a lifelong project, it's a generations-long project that will have to continue because it's not easy, you know, it took us from the founding-- it took us 200 years to get to a point where victims were shunted aside. The restoration of the victim as a central party in the criminal justice system is not gonna happen overnight.
It's a long generations-long battle. And many will have to come after us who will carry on that battle in courtrooms all across the country. And I'm confident that'll happen.
Hook: What then is your greatest fear for our field?
Twist: Well I guess my greatest fear would be that we'll be unsuccessful in getting the Amendment passed. But when I think about all the dedication of all the people who have worked in the field and really, you have to think about this in two categories. There are those sort the professionals in our field, the victim advocates who... whose love and caring and compassion have caused them or brought them to a point where they're effective voices for people who are damaged and beleaguered by the... by crime and the criminal justice system; um, there are real leaders in that field. I think of Marlene Young and John Stein and Anne Seymour, David Beatty, all the many sort of giants of this movement who have been inspirations for me and so many others. That legacy and that challenge is going to continue on and I think it will spur on new generations.
And sadly the other thing that sanctifies this movement really is the loss and the pain that's suffered by the victims um, and their stories. I mean, more than any lawyer's argument, more than any Constitutional debate, more than any academic exposition, it's the stories of the injustice that will carry this movement to its successful conclusion. Just now I'm representing Mr. Duane Lynn. His.. he's from Phoenix, he and his wife Nila were married almost 50 years, they were three months short of their 50th wedding anniversary when Richard Glossell walked into a homeowners' association meeting that they were attending and began to shoot into the crowd. He shot Nila in the back propelling her forward, literally, where she fell into Duane's arms and spoke her last words to him and died in his arms.
In Arizona he has a Constitutional right to be heard at any proceeding involving sentencing. The legislature has further defined that to mean he has a right to offer an opinion on what the sentence should be. We went to court on behalf of Mr. Lynn to ask the court to enter an order protecting his right to offer a recommendation uh, on what the sentence should be, the court denied us our request. We filed a petition for special action in the Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals denied the request. We filed a petition for review at the Supreme Court and while they granted the petition for review, they wouldn't impose a stay so the sentencing proceeding went on. And at that sentencing proceeding, the defendant had a legal right to make a recommendation to the jury, the defendant's family had a legal right to make a recommendation to the jury, the prosecutor made a recommendation about what the sentence should be, the defense attorney made a recommendation to the jury about what the sentence should be. It was only Mr. Lynn, only the victim who was denied the right, despite these good laws that we have in Arizona, Mr. Lynn was denied the right to make that recommendation.
He was allowed, because of the changes we have, he was allowed to say to the jury who Nila was, he was allowed to tell the jury of their life together, how much he loved her, how much he missed her, how she died in his arms, how they were three months short of their 50th wedding anniversary and that the money that they had saved for a trip for their wedding anniversary he had to spend on a casket for her. Um, but he was not allowed, despite the fact that all these other people could speak, he was not allowed to say, "And therefore, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you to impose life imprisonment and not the death penalty," which is what he wanted to do. Our law is so upside down that the courts are saying it's a violation of the defendant's Eighth Amendment rights for a victim to stand and ask for life and not death. Only when we get the Constitute -- this story and Mr. Lynn, if people could hear the damage and the harm in his voice that that injustice has caused him, the fact that he is not permitted to speak when all these others are permitted to speak and it was his wife who died in his arms. When people hear stories like Mr. Lynn's and all the other stories of injustice that pile up week in and week out around the country, ultimately their voices will change the country.
Hook: Okay. Thank you.
Twist: All right.
|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.|