Spotlight: RISE Project Partner Profile: Arizona Voice for Crime Victims

Arizona Voice for Crime Victims

RISE Project Partner Profile

A core aspect of the RISE Project is NCVLI subgranting to six direct service providers to provide legal representation to assist victims in asserting and seeking enforcement of their rights in criminal cases, and, as necessary during and in support of such representation, provide those victims representation on collateral civil legal matters arising from the victimization. Following a competitive selection process, six were selected. Arizona Voice for Crime Victims is one of them.

What is the mission of your agency and how does the RISE Project fit within that?
Arizona Voice for Crime Victims’ (AVCV) mission is to ensure that crime victims receive their rights to justice, due process and dignified treatment throughout the criminal justice process. We achieve our mission through providing no cost legal representation and social services to victims of crime and providing education and technical assistance on crime victims’ rights. The vision of AVCV is to establish a compassionate justice system in which crime victims are informed of their rights, fully understand those rights, know how to assert their rights, have a meaningful way to enforce those rights, and know how to seek immediate crisis intervention when they become victims of crime. The RISE Project has allowed AVCV to serve victims who are truly underserved: child-victims who are in the custody of the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS), for the purpose of asserting and enforcing their rights under the Arizona Victims Bill of Rights during the course of a criminal prosecution. Many of the child-victims in DCS custody are left without an appropriate victim representative as their parent or legal guardian are often the defendant in ongoing criminal proceedings. Through our partnership with DCS, AVCV has been able to give the most vulnerable of victims, child-victims, a voice and an opportunity for meaningful participation, as our VBR directs, throughout the criminal justice process.

When and how did you first start working with NCVLI?
AVCV and NCVLI have been collaborating partners since NCVLI’s inception. AVCV’s founder, Steve Twist, and Professor Doug Beloof, from Lewis & Clark Law School, had the vision that led to the creation of NCVLI. With assistance from Senators Jon Kyl and Diane Feinstein, who were also sponsors of the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act legislation, NCVLI was funded. Over the years, AVCV and NCVLI have partnered to provide training and technical assistance on victims’ rights issues and file amicus briefs in cases in appellate courts across the country where the outcome will impact the constitutional or statutory rights of victims. AVCV values our partnership with NCVLI and looks forward to what we will accomplish together in the years to come.

Tell us about a recent success/deliverable of your RISE Clinic.
AVCV recently received a ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court on two important victims’ rights issues: seating of victims’ counsel in the courtroom and whether federal due process requires a cap on restitution. The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) referred this case to AVCV when the child-victim’s rights were violated. Over the years there have been many rights violations that AVCV has had to fight to remedy. For instance, initially, the prosecuting agency did not view the child-victim as a legal victim despite the express statutory provision recognizing siblings of murder victims as legal victims. Thus, the prosecuting agency had arranged for the child-victim to submit to defense interviews for each of the four defendants. Additionally, the state negotiated the first plea offer without conferring with the victim and without any provision addressing restitution. After a long fight for the victim, the Court of Appeals issued a published opinion holding that the sibling of a homicide victim is a victim and that there can be more than one victim in a case. The Court of Appeals also directed the trial court to ensure the victim had an opportunity to confer with the prosecution about the plea agreement. When counsel for AVCV was finally able to confer with the prosecution, she noted that the plea agreement did not address restitution. Fortunately a provision addressing restitution was added but then the state and defense agreed to cap restitution at $500,000 without regard to the victim’s actual losses. During the change of plea and sentencing hearings, AVCV objected to the restitution cap but the trial court upheld the cap relying on a line of cases that predated Arizona’s Victims Bill of Rights. During this trial-level litigation, victim’s counsel was directed to sit in the gallery rather than the well of the court. AVCV filed again with the Court of Appeals. After oral argument on the matter, the Court of Appeals declined to accept jurisdiction and AVCV filed for review with the Arizona Supreme Court. Oral argument was held on November 20, 2019. AVCV argued that restitution caps in plea agreements are an impermissible waiver of the individual rights of the victim and are not required as a matter of state or federal due process. Additionally, AVCV argued that crime victims have a right to have their counsel seated in the well of a courtroom when a victim’s constitutional or statutory right is at issue. On August 4, 2020, the Arizona Supreme Court overruled three pre-VBR cases requiring restitution caps, and held that restitution caps violate the victim’s right to restitution for their full economic loss and that victim’s counsel has a presumptive right to be seated in the well of the courtroom.

What motivates you to do the work that you do with victims’ rights in your community?
AVCV is motivated to provide legal representation and social services to victims of state and federal crimes in Arizona to ensure victims’ constitutional and statutory rights are enforced and that victims are treated with fairness, respect, and dignity and remain free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse as required by the Arizona Victims Bill of Rights. Despite the 30th anniversary of the passage of these rights, there are still victims who are denied an opportunity for meaningful participation during the process, do not have their own counsel or even know they can have counsel, or are in need of social services. Further, there are constitutional provisions that have yet to be addressed by Arizona’s appellate courts including a definition of due process for a victim and a victim’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. The potential for the advancement of victims’ rights motivates AVCV to continue forward.

Why should other individuals, clinics, and/or organizations get involved with victims’ rights enforcement?
Victims’ right work is the most rewarding work a person will ever do. There is need for victims’ rights attorneys and other victims’ rights professionals. Very few victims have their own counsel or even know they have a right to have their own counsel during criminal proceedings. Victims having attorneys should be the norm rather than the exception.

Learn more about the Rights in Systems Enforced Project here.