Victim Rights in the US and Europe-A US Constitutional Amendment-NOVA-DC Public Safety Radio

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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. Our guest back at our microphones, Will Marling, he is the Executive Director of the National Association for Victim Assistance, Today we’re going to be talking about victims’ rights, international activity on the part of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, and a constitutional amendment, our favorite topic. Will, welcome back to DC Public Safety.

Will Marling: Thank you, Len, as always, wonderful to meet with you.

Len Sipes: Where do you want to start, Will? I mean I’m always interested in the constitutional amendment, so I’d like to start off with that. And just to refresh everybody’s memory, that we have somewhere in a ballpark of about 20, latter 20, 30 states out there that have constitutional amendments protecting victims’ rights, but there is no United States constitutional amendment that applies to federal crimes, correct?

Will Marling: That’s exactly right. Now, there are 33 of the 50 states have state constitutional amendments for victims’ rights, but at a federal level, there are none. And that contrast with upwards of 23 prescribed rights for those who are accused of a crime. But if you take that same crime where somebody is accused, and of course in our system we treat that as an accusation that needs to be tried and considered thoughtfully in a court of law, but in that same crime victimization, the victim of that same situation has no right to rights under the United States Constitution.

Len Sipes: Right. And the whole idea is to expand rights as they apply to federal crimes. But in particular, I’m going to make a leap and suggest that the states that don’t have constitutional amendments protecting victims’ rights, they will be further inclined to consider a constitutional amendment, their own constitutional amendment for victims’ rights, because of the fact that there’s now a federal constitutional amendment for victims’ rights. Am I right or wrong?

Will Marling: Well, certainly. I mean actually that’s a good insight that states constitutions could be amended – 17 states that don’t have it could be amended to include victims’ rights. I think the main push for us is that at a federal level, since we don’t have a victims’ rights amendment to the United States Constitution, we certainly have the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, which as a federal act, does provide rights, and services, and provisions for federal crime victims, but of course that’s 5% or less of what goes on. Most crimes are tried at a state and local level. So a United States constitutional amendment would do two major things, two big things. One big thing is that, similar and parallel to the average citizen who might be accused of that crime, the process of providing protections under the law for that accused would be there, but also the victims. And so, just like we have things like Miranda that went all the way to the Supreme Court, we could also have, victims could argue their case under the Constitution. And secondly, another dimension that’s quite intriguing to us is that soldiers would also have victims’ rights. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, there are some legislative rights, just like there are even in non-constitutional states, but from the standpoint of victims’ rights, this would actually address that. A U.S. soldier who is a victim of a crime could also appeal to the United States Constitution as a victim to protect those liberties, for the rights of that victim.

Len Sipes: And where that’s really important are the accusations of rape and sexual assault against female members of the Armed Forces. So there, they certainly have protections that they never had before.

Will Marling: Well, that’s true, and just to kind of bring in a balance there, the military is 85% male, and so numerically actually sexual assault against men is the preponderance. Now, since there is a 15% female population in the military, sexual assault has a higher proportion against women, but sometimes people don’t actually recognize that men as well as women in the United States Military are being sexually assaulted. And of course, both need to be respected in the service, they need to have rights affirmed, and then they need to have fair just processes to protect them going forward.

Len Sipes: A very important clarification, something that did not come to mind. You’re doing victim assistance training, I remember from a radio show months back, for the Department of Defense, correct?

Will Marling: Well, yeah. The Department of Defense project that we’re working is actually certification. The Department of Defense has the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office, it’s out of the Pentagon, and that office has been specifically tasked with dealing with the problem, the crime, of sexual assault. And we work with that entity to certify the victim advocates in the United States Military and those come under the moniker of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program. Great, long military acronym as usual. But it’s an important one, because what we’re doing is we’re affirming standards of care for those advocates who are serving sexual assault victims in all branches of the military.

Len Sipes: Now, where are we with the constitutional amendment, any progress, any more support? I mean between the federal shutdown and debates over the Affordable Care Act, they seem to be busy with other things. Are they being supportive of…? Do they have additional members of…? The constitutional amendment starts off in the House, correct?

Will Marling: In this particular exercise and this particular strategy, we are working in the United States House of Representatives to start.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Will Marling: Under Article 5 of the Constitution, to amend the Constitution you could work through Congress first, either side. Both houses, both sides of Congress, have to amend, well, they have to approve by two thirds majority, any amendment to the Constitution, and then it would go to the states for ratification, three quarters of the states need to do that. You could start with the states and then work to Congress. We’re starting with the House of Representatives, because that’s the place that probably, from the standpoint of where we are, is maybe the biggest hill to climb.

Len Sipes: Okay.

Will Marling: But when we get that then we move forward.

Len Sipes: So you can start either in the House or the Senate, you just chose to start at the House?

Will Marling: We chose to start in the House in this particular context, just because of the current environment, the structure of the House at present; we felt it was a place to really address first. There’s been strong support historically anyway, for constitutional amendment in the Senate, and the last foray into this particular arena was started in the Senate. And so, yeah, it came two votes shy of cloture which was moving it to a vote, moving it out of committee, into a vote. And we just needed two votes to get it out and then to the floor, and there were forces at work, but that shows how much progress can be made.

Len Sipes: All right. So you were two votes short in committee in the Senate. I don’t mean to be too technical about this. So but for whatever reason you decide this time around to go in the House of Representatives to start there.

Will Marling: Right.

Len Sipes: Okay. How much support have you gotten?

Will Marling: Well, we’re currently quietly and carefully educating members of the House of Representatives. And what I would say is obviously it’s a big issue. To give perspective in any two year session of Congress. You can have between 12 and 14,000 bills presented.

Len Sipes: Right.

Will Marling: So between 2% and 4% of those pass. And when you’re talking about amending the Constitution, of course you’re talking about a smaller number. So we’re taking the time and giving the effort to going door to door in a sense, educating members, because they have so much that’s pulling at their attention, vying for their interest.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Will Marling: And so we just want to – we’re being very systematic in saying, “Here’s the amendment as it stands to propose. It’s House Joint Resolution 40. Give it some consideration. Let’s continue to educate-talk about the value that this represents, not only to the nation now, but to our posterity.”

Len Sipes: Well, are you encouraged? Do you think it’s going to go through this time? Do you think you’ll have enough support in the House? And consequently, do you think you’ll have the equal amount of support in the Senate?

Will Marling: Well, it’s about timing. We have, from the Senate side, Senate leadership I think has inferred and indicated that, “Hey, let’s see what you can do in the House side.” because that’s kind of a heavier lift, it’s a larger body of people, there are a lot more things at work, a lot of more issues at play. And if we can get through there then I think there’s a focus for the Senate to say, “Okay, there’s momentum, let’s work on it from our side.” In the House side, I would say I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making. I can’t specify for you specific benchmarks as such. It certainly can garner co-sponsorship and folks in your listening network who have the mind to look it up and contact their legislator to say in the House, “Hey, would you consider co-sponsoring House Joint Resolution 40?” We’re all for that. What we’re finding there are, as you mentioned right at the outset, there were a couple of big forces at work, including the shutdown and then the deliberations over the Affordable Care Act. So actually Congress, many parts of Congress, many would know here, because I’m in the Washington D.C. area too, people were working, there were things that were going on in Congress, and we did see some activity, and we were having conversations even then. So I’m encouraged, that’s how I would say. It’s a long slow deliberate process and of course timing is everything here, as you know, Len.

Len Sipes: Oh yeah. And it’s a bit of a risk because you’re starting off in the House, and the House; they only have two year tenures.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right.

Len Sipes: [OVERLAY] said that they have six year tenures.

Will Marling: Right.

Len Sipes: So you could find people who are supportive and they could be voted out.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right. But what our hope is in this particular term, if we can get the House to approve it, then if the House changes and we move over to the Senate to get approval, we’ve got that kind of momentum, as opposed to vice versa. Because you can educate, go to the Senate, maybe they approve it, then you have another election cycle, more changes, more education. And so we’re trying to play this smart.

Len Sipes: Constitutional amendments are extraordinarily rare. I mean everybody listening to this program needs to understand that. It’s difficult to get an amendment to the United States Constitution. There simply aren’t that many of them.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right. I mean, I don’t know what the average is. My speculation is they’re like 20 years at best, in terms of how often we amend the Constitution. And some would contend that amending the Constitution shouldn’t be done, or even very extremely rarely, and I agree. I mean my personal principal is, yeah, that’s true. It was not a perfect document, but a strong document. I’ve been reading about the early days of our Constitution and its founding. But at the same time, the founders wisely understood that it needs to be amended. And we know historically, there were important things to give citizens in this country a freedom, for one, and give other members of this society the right to vote, for another. And of course, if we didn’t have a process for amending, or if we didn’t make a commitment to amending, that would not have happened. So helping people understand by and large that victims of crime, those who are drawn into the systems, the justice systems of state, local, and as well federal government, without rights, they have no standing in that system under the law, they just don’t. They work for the government as such, as a witness, at best.

Len Sipes: And we understand that that’s fundamentally wrong, that victims of crimes should have constitutional protections at the federal level and in every state throughout the United States.

Will Marling: Well, that’s right. Because the average citizen, if you walked out on the street and just started interviewing people, and said, “Okay, if you’re accused of a crime, let’s say you’re arrested, what are your rights?” And most people, my kids, I’ve got teenagers, and they’d say, “We have the right to remain silent. And if you give up the right to remain silent – on, and on, and on.” Why? Because they’ve seen Miranda played out on television shows.

Len Sipes: Right.

Will Marling: If you turn around and say, “Okay, you’re the victim of that crime, what rights do you have?” They’re going to say, “Uh, well, uh, hmm, I’m not sure.” But that victim should have rights. Most people would contend that victims should have rights, because at the heart of it, they’re the one that experiences the brunt of the harm. And it’s always shocking for people to experience that firsthand, that, “Oh, I don’t have the rights I thought I did.”

Len Sipes: Well, I interviewed Lisa Spicknall, who is a victim’s advocate, and went through a tragic experience of having her own two children, infant children, murdered by a former husband, domestic violence and victim’s issue all rolled up into one. And as a victim’s advocate, that’s one of the things that she said very, very clearly, is that very few people understand that the criminal justice system is built around the offender not the victim.

Will Marling: That is exactly right. And our contingent is not to take away one right from the accused, at all. If I’m accused of a crime, under the Constitution, I want every protection, because I didn’t commit that crime, I’ve been falsely accused, and I want a deliberate consideration of the truth of that matter. At the same time, victims not having rights should change; because the treatment, the respect, the dignity, the right even to know what’s going on, is not a given in our society, believe it or not. The right to be told how this process is moving forward, how prosecution is interacting with the accused, in some sectors, you don’t have any right to any information about a case that applies directly to you.

Len Sipes: I just find that astounding. I, as a member of the criminal justice system for well over 40 years, I just find that astounding. But we’re more than halfway through the program. Let me reintroduce you, Will. Ladies and gentlemen, our guest today is Will Marling; he is the Executive Director for the National Association for Victim Assistance, On your website,, you’ll find information about the constitutional amendment and find information about victims’ rights. How many people does the National Organization for Victims Assistance on a yearly basis, Will?

Will Marling: Well, it depends on how you want to calculate that. We have a toll free victim assistance line, 800-trynova, and that is nationwide, North American as well, we get some Canadian calls, we also get an occasional international call, but we take about 6,000 victim assistance calls a year on that line, and as well, we take a number of victims’ assistance e-mails. We will tell people that I would let people know, we don’t do a lot of victims’ assistance over e-mails, specifically because e-mail is not secure…

Len Sipes: Right.

Will Marling: Especially in some contexts. You do not want a domestic violence victim communicating details that could be accessed by a perpetrator. And also, it’s just complex. We know we’d like to talk to people real time to ask meaningful questions that help get to the resources they need. But otherwise we do take those e-mails, and then of course we do a lot of training with advocates. So we feel like, as a network, we touch literally thousands of people beyond even our victims’ assistance [INDISCERNIBLE 00:16:14], because of the great network we have, incredible, incredible, people.

Len Sipes: Well, that is the heart and soul of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the fact that you are all involved in certifying and training and assisting victims’ advocates throughout the United States. And that’s one of the reasons why you are certifying the victims’ advocates for the US Department of Defense.

Will Marling: That’s right. Yeah, I mean we’re extremely proud of that. It’s humbling; I will admit to you, because there’re so many that do such good work. We are one of other really good, viable, committed, national, and local, and state, victim assistance type organizations. But I’m honored to lead the organization that actually tends to be, has to be the oldest. And some of my European colleges indicated that they believe that they believe that Nova is the oldest victim assistance organization of its kind in the world, let alone the nation. But many good organizations have emerged after that. I sometimes say, in hopefully a humble way, that a good bit of Nova DNA actually does transmit out to many of the wonderful organizations that are at work today in this area.

Len Sipes: Well, what I’d like to joke about, and it’s really not a joke, and take it in all seriousness, is that as a member of criminal justice system for, again, over 40 years, and at the national and state level, when you got a call from Nova, you paid a lot of attention to whoever was on the end of the phone, because Nova carried a lot of clout. So Nova’s carrying a lot of clout internationally. Tell me about the international activities that Nova’s been involved in?

Will Marling: Yeah, we’ve been meeting with some international colleagues. And it’s a very informal process at the moment. We’ve established a small working group, two weeks ago, very recently, obviously, to this program. We met New York City. And representatives of Victims’ Support Europe as well as a group from Korea, there’s a crime victim assistance network there. We met in New York City, in Manhattan, near the United Nations, as a focal point to discuss how we could collaborate and raise the voice to victims internationally. And we’ve established what is simply called the Victims of Crime International. I know it’s not real creative, but…

Len Sipes: Oh, it’s very Google friendly.

Will Marling: Yeah, thank you. And for search engine optimization, we’re trying to be really functional. But what it represented is a working group, to bring together thoughts on how we can better organize, and of course, as an entity, pursue some funding that might help facilitate these conversations and collaborations internationally. The reality is that I even mentioned here, we have some growing to do, even with our own Constitution and victims’ rights. Europe is taking some leadership with a very recent directive that is probably one of the most powerful national, internationally – a European Union directive for victims’ rights and services, that touches all 28 member states in the European Union, and of course like 120 languages. And bringing those voices together with ours and with those in Asia, some really good victim services and victims’ rights being done in Asia, we believe the opportunity is ripe for us to join those and affirm really international standards for these kind of things, and an international commitment. Because in some countries the human rights is a consideration that should be on the table, let alone victim rights. So we believe the time is now really to enhance the needs of victims around the world.

Len Sipes: Here’s an observation. I don’t know if it’s true or not. I remember a lot of victims’ work decades ago being done through the United Nations. Now it seems as if the European Union is taking the lead in terms of international victims’ rights. Am I right or wrong?

Will Marling: Well, you’ve got some good observations. The United Nations has focused on victims’ rights, and it’s not specifically or solely focused on crime victims’ rights in that sector. They have different foci; they have different dimensions to that. They do have an area that focuses on crime victim related issues. But the European Union has demonstrated some very strong leadership in the past two years, specifically, related to this directive. Victim Support Europe has been functioning for 25 years. And so I think it’s a combination of both, that the United Nations has obviously large peace agenda items – I mean the issues of war and peace and the demands on them to try and facilitate those things are big – along with human rights and then the issues related to crime victims’ rights. So what I’m hoping happens is that it truly becomes synergistic and that it become collaborative, even at a EU, European Union, and United Nations, level.

Len Sipes: Now, what prompted the activities and the connections in terms of the European Union? I mean was it part of recognizing that Nova is the oldest organization in probably the world, in terms of protecting victims’ rights? Did they come to you on that basis or is there something spurring the development of victims’ rights? Is there a new victims’ rights movement in Europe that’s spurring this?

Will Marling: Both. Both of those were really keen observations, Len. The first thing was that, relationally, Nova and Victims Support Europe, we ended up kind of speaking at each other’s conferences, and talking, and getting to know one another. So there was this, I call it a providential relational overlap, where we said, “Oh, wow! You’re doing that and we’re doing this.” And we started kind of cross-collaboration and training. And that caused us to start talking more specifically about the similarities and differences with our works, but also the needs around the world. At the same time, the issue of victims’ rights has emerged. In July, no June, of this year, European Union leadership, as well as the US Attorney General, met in Dublin, Ireland before, I think it was the G8 summit or after, I can’t remember which. But they met and the agenda item specifically was victims’ rights in our two particular sectors, Europe and the United States. And so, yes, there is this focus right now, for whatever reason, on victims’ rights and services, and the importance they should have to both the United States and the European Union.

Len Sipes: I don’t want to get into a larger discussion of crime, but crime tends to go up and down. Not necessarily in the same percentages, but the trend lines seem to go up and down, regardless as to whether it’s the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Western industrialized countries, Japan, I mean there are a lot trend lines that are similar. And I’ve noticed that the Bureau of Justice Statistics came out a couple of days ago and said that we now have had two consecutive years in a row of rising property and violent crime in the United States. So it seems to me that, possibly, because we’ve had coming off a 20 year decline overall, in terms of violent and property crime, that the issue of victims’ rights may have taken a bit of backseat, because the overall crime issue has taken a bit of backseat. But with rising crime, do you feel that that gives a greater emphasis, that places a greater emphasis, and the proper emphasis, back on victims’ rights?

Will Marling: Well, that could be true. I would track with you that there are these larger trends sometimes that are beyond even the more obvious things of financial declines or whatever. There are a number of forces, as I’ve read, that can create increases and decreases in crime rate. What I try to always bring in terms of my role as focusing on the needs and the voices of victims is that even when there’s a decline in the crime rate, there’s still a lot of victims.

Len Sipes: Oh, yes.

Will Marling: Even when it goes down. And of course we celebrate every percentage point that crime decline represents. At the same time, there are still profound needs that exist there. So I suspect that you’re right. My sense is that with a greater focus on the rates going up, that there’s greater media exposure, and some interest in this kind of story. And what are we going to do about it? What needs to be done about it? Of course, how can we affect, hopefully, a decline in the crime rate? And that could well be why we’re seeing that greater interest.

Len Sipes: One of the other topics that you want to talk about. Well, you’ve had some additional information on victims’ rights beyond the international and beyond the constitutional amendment, anything new there?

Will Marling: Well, internationally, the victims’ rights issues?

Len Sipes: No, no, no, I mean are there victims’ right issues that are coming up, bubbling up, in the United States that go beyond what we’ve talked about in terms of international activity, and go beyond what we’ve talked about in terms of the constitutional amendment?

Will Marling: Well, there certainly can be specific and isolated battles for just dignity and respect for victims. You worked for 40 years with law enforcement and you’re, in many ways I’ve told you, you’re my poster child for the kind of officer the victims would want to have and take that report because you have a sensitive concerned spirit, but you’re also extremely competent. Both of those things –

Len Sipes: But I think most of us in the criminal justice system are pro-victims. I think it’s the bureaucracy that simply gets in the way of treating victims as if they need, as they need to be treated. We’ve had cutbacks throughout the country in terms of law enforcement officers. We’ve had cutbacks throughout the country in terms of parole and probation agents. I mean we’ve had some police departments, some major police departments, where they’ve lost 30%, 40%, and in some cases in New Jersey, 50% of their police officers. When you’re struggling with cutbacks and you’re struggling with lack of manpower lack of person power, you don’t have a lot of time to give to victims of crime. So I think we are pro-victim, but I think at the same time there’s only so much time that you can give. And when you cut the time back that far, I think victims get hurt in the process.

Will Marling: You’re right. There’s no question about that. And when we take victim assistance calls here, and I try to do my part in assisting there, and use my expertise, but also contribute time to helping a victim on a victim assistance call, it’s not uncommon for me to try to educate them, it’s not an excuse for them, because when they’re struggling, they’re looking for help, and it’s hard to say to them, “That officer couldn’t give you as much time as you would’ve wanted.” Why? “Because they’re stretched thin.” At the same time, we try to educate on those very issues to give people context for the limitations of resources that might exist, and also to encourage our officers, and prosecutors, and the like, that even sometimes the smallest simplest declarations of respect and also control, small demonstrations of giving control, can make such a profound difference. We go back to the issue of trauma with victims. The cause of trauma primarily in folk, is when they lose control. And that control is beyond their capacity, either to respond to, or to react to. And then, when having lost control that has resulted in a loss of life, or an injury, or even finances, or as we many times say, the loss of innocence now, when we give them back an opportunity to control, that can be very therapeutic in their lives. And so it’s hard. You’re exactly right. When you’re stretched thin and you’re running from call to call – my heart goes out to these folks who are working so diligently, and it can be hard to be – exude more patience in that context. At the same time, I can encourage them that whenever even the smallest step of respect and control is offered, they might not know how big a difference that can make.

Len Sipes: Well, and I think that’s the message to all of us within the criminal justice system, is that we must reach down deep, and I know we’re busy, I know we’re running from call to call, I know parole and probation agencies have huge caseloads, I know correctional officers have huge caseloads; but all of us need to reach in deep and get beyond the moment, and realize that that’s somebody’s mother, that’s somebody’s father, that somebody’s brother or sister. I mean we really have to have some sympathy and provide some respect for the victims, as well as making sure that we protect the rights of victims, and that’s best done through a constitutional amendment.

Will Marling: You are spot-on. I couldn’t have said it better.

Len Sipes: I mean sometimes it takes that, it takes the law, it said, “Okay, it’s no longer optional, folks. It’s the law.”

Will Marling: That’s right.

Len Sipes: We must follow the law. So regardless of how busy we are, we need to adhere to the law and respect victims.

Will Marling: That’s right. But we live in rule of law society and that means that law is king. Not a person, law is king. And so we refer – what does the king say? The law as king says, “This is the way it is.” And until we really, we can say we believe so many things, we can say there are inalienable rights, but we have to articulate those in a constitutional sense, or a legal sense, at the very least, to say, “This is what matters to us.”

Len Sipes: Well, –

Will Marling: And that empowers the system.

Len Sipes: Well, you’ve got the final word, ladies and gentlemen; we’ve been talking to Will Marling. He is the Executive Director of the National Association for Victim Assistance., We appreciate your calls. We appreciate your e-mails. We even appreciate your comments and criticisms. And we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]


Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective-Lisa Spicknall-DC Public Safety Radio

Welcome to “DC Public Safety” – Radio and television shows, blog and transcripts on crime, criminal offenders and the criminal justice system.

The portal site for “DC Public Safety” is

Radio Program available at

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety; I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, I think a very moving program we have for you today “Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective.” We have Lisa Spicknall. She is a program manager for the “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, She’s been a victim’s advocate for 14 years. She tells an incredible story of perseverance under unbelievable circumstances. What I want to do is read a piece from ABC News, because she has been covered by People magazine, ABC News, lots of national publications. These publications at the same time call Lisa a hero. But I want to give you a sense as to what it is that Lisa’s been through, so I’ll read very quickly from a piece from ABC News.  “When Lisa Spicknall was thrown down the stairs by her husband Richard with her toddler in her arms, she decided to pick herself up and walk out on her marriage. After eight years in a troubled relationship, she left the marriage for the sake of her two children, three year old Destiny and two year old Richie. ‘That night he could have killed my son.’ Said Lisa. ‘That’s when I made the decision that enough was enough.’ Nine months later, in September 1999, her estranged husband murdered both of her children. ‘He wanted the ultimate hurt and he found it.’ she said. The murder of her two children was not only a crime committed by a man who was trying to get back into a soon ex-wife in a wife’s life in a horrific and unimaginable way, it was a crime that could have been prevented by laws that stop accused abusers under protective orders from buying handguns and it was a gun crime that shed light on a state-wide problem that could have had, and can have fatal consequences.” Lisa, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Lisa Spicknall: Thank you very much, Len.

Len Sipes: Lisa, you know, it is just unimaginable, the fact that your former husband killed your two children, strapped in the back of a vehicle. He had custody rights and he took the children, supposedly, on a vacation, murdered your two children. That’s something you have had to live with your entire life. I’m not quite sure I really want to dwell on that particular issue, so much as everything that you’ve done past that, but I wanted to acknowledge for the audience the tragedy that you went through.

Lisa Spicknall: Thank you very much.

Len Sipes: And I think that it’s been an unbelievable journey for you and an unbelievable journey for the rest of us involved in the criminal justice system, because ladies and gentlemen, I do get the sense that we within the criminal justice system still, at this point, do not treat victims of crime with the compassion that we need to employ and we, I think many times, we, within the criminal justice system, do not acknowledge the legitimate rights of victims. Correct Lisa?

Lisa Spicknall: That’s correct. Although it has gotten better over the past 35 years, I think there’s still a long way to go and I still think that victims are treated a lot differently than we should be, when it comes to the criminal justice system.

Len Sipes: We do several shows a year with the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Will Marling comes on to this air and talks about things from a national perspective and talks about the possibility of a federal Constitutional Amendment protecting victims, but I wanted to do a show from a victim’s perspective, because again, every day, every year, there are millions of violent crimes in this country, millions of property crimes in this country, and there’s millions of people who are stuck with dealing with those of us in the criminal justice system. They’re thrust in it. They didn’t ask to be here, they don’t want to be here, and they’re going through this unbelievably traumatic moment and then they’ve got this huge, and sometimes uncaring, bureaucracy, confusing bureaucracy – they have to deal with us. So that’s one of the hardest things in the world that I can possibly imagine a person has to go through, during an unbelievably difficult time in their lives.

Lisa Spicknall: It really is, especially when you’re thrust into this criminal justice system that you, most of the time, know nothing about. Most victims of crime have never dealt with or been touched by the criminal justice system at all except maybe, you know, a minor traffic ticket or something along those lines. But when you’re dealing with innocent victims of crime, they’ve never dealt with any of this. They’ve never worked with a prosecutor, they’ve never had to sit before a defense attorney or talk to a victim advocate about what their rights are, or what their rights aren’t. You know, a lot of times we start out in this process as victims and we think, “Well, it’s us against them.” And it’s really not. You learn very quickly that it’s the State against the offender in your crime. It’s them who are going to make all the decisions and all the choices. You know, you have the right to be notified and the right to be present and the right to be informed, but you learn very quickly that you don’t have the right of say so. You generally don’t have the choice of, “Yes, I want this prosecutor to do this, this way.” Or, you know, “I want them to file for the death penalty as opposed to not filing for the death penalty.” “My loved one was killed, why wouldn’t they file for the death penalty?” So you learn very quickly that you don’t have a lot of say in what happens and it’s very confusing, it’s very – it’s not at all like what we see on television and I think that’s hard for a lot of people to accept and to come to terms with.

Len Sipes: Those of us in the system, we have to deal, whether you’re in the law enforcement side or the corrections side, we have to deal with thousands upon thousands of events. Which means thousands upon thousands of victims. Which means that you’ve got to be almost machine like in terms of your ability to process either as a police officer, to process a crime scene as a prosecutor, to bring the case to the court. There’s only so much emotion, there’s only so much sympathy, if that’s the right word, there’s only so much empathy that you can bring to the table, because beyond the Lisa Spicknall’s of the world, there are 100 others right behind her. Do we, can we do a better job of humanizing the system to victims of crime?

Lisa Spicknall: I think the most important thing that I talk to – I do a lot of prosecutor training, a lot of police officer training, and I think one of the most important things that I tell them is, treat these families how you would expect and want your family to be treated. You know, there’s always going to be that separation, there’s always going to be that case that touches you and rips your heart out and sets it on the table and makes you more humanized to what’s going on and but there’s always going to be those cases where you push aside and you know, breaking and entering of an 80 year old woman, who, “It’s no big deal. Nobody got hurt, everything’s okay.” But for that person, their life is completely changed. And I think if people start to realize that as much as the, you know, violent homicides and the, you know, different types of crimes that really effect and touch people, you’re going to start to see a lot more compassion coming from prosecutors, coming from police officers, coming from the different justice professionals to say, “Wait a minute, if I treat these people how I would want my 80 year old grandmothers to be treated, it’s going to give not only the victim, but it’s also going to give the officer or the prosecutor a different outlook on the way things should be.

Len Sipes: Well, I’ve been told that if we did that, we’d become much more effective in terms of gaining the trust of the victim and we would become much more effective in gaining the trust of the family. We would get more information, better information in terms of prosecuting the individual. But again, it is, it goes back to a variety of things. Number one, there’s a lot of people who make very basic, fundamental, life decisions – not on the violent crime, it is a property crime. If their house has been burglarized two or three times, the move. A lot of individuals will simply say, “That’s it, I don’t want to live here.” Cities, counties, urban areas are tremendously hurt by property crimes. The car is stolen – I know of an individual that came to the city of Baltimore and he came there as a television executive. Wanted to live in the city of Baltimore, had his garage – not his house – his garage broken into three times and the bikes of he and his wife and his children were stolen three times. He moved. Now he had an entirely different view of the city, he had an entirely different commitment to the city of Baltimore based upon a non-violent crime that didn’t even involve his house. So if people feel that strongly about these sort of crimes, could you imagine what it would be somebody who has to deal with the fact that their loved one has been murdered or their loved one has been raped or their loved one has been robbed. Doesn’t that change their lives dramatically?

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely it does. You know, any time you’re touched by crime, it changes your life, no matter what the extent of. You know, and a lot of times people don’t realize that crime touches not only just the individual affected but it touches the entire community. So you’re looking at a community problem where eventually communities are going to, for [INDISCERNIBLE 00:09:44] and things like that, they’re going to pick up and start moving. They’re going to change what they do on a daily basis and they have to. But I think a lot of that comes from treatment, it comes from the way that they’re looked at, the way that they’re judged. You know, you have victims out there who are looked at, “Well, if you didn’t do X, Y and Z then this wouldn’t have happened.” Well, that’s not necessarily true. We can’t look at victimization as the victim’s fault, we have to look at it as, “What can we as a society do to help prevent this type of victimization from happening?”

Len Sipes: But a lot of people do that, do they not? A lot of people say, “If she had not done this, if they had better secured their garage, if they had done this, if they had done that, they wouldn’t have been victimized.” I think people have this sense of they cannot allow the understanding that it wasn’t somehow, some way, the victim’s doing something, not doing something, because if they go to this sense that regardless of what the victim did or did not do, that crime probably was going to happen, that makes them feel that much more vulnerable, does it not?

Lisa Spicknall: It does. And it also takes away from that “it can’t happen to me” syndrome. You know, you have people who immediately, “Oh, that could never happen to me. Just can’t happen to me, because I do X, Y, and Z.” Well, you know, it can happen to you and it can happen to anybody. I currently work for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving and one of my biggest fears is innocently driving down the road and being hit by a drunk driver. You know, we hear about it all the time. And we see it and it can happen very well. I’m one of the biggest, “It can’t happen to me. I know what to look for, I know to see if somebody’s swerving.” But you know, I have to step back from that and say, “It could very well happen to me.” You know? It happens every day. It happens – there will be, in the State of Maryland this year, about 25,000 arrests just for drunk driving. And that’s the arrests that were caught. That doesn’t include the drunk drivers that get away. So all of those people on the road, driving, you know – we all need to step back and say, “This can happen to me.” And what – we need to stand up as a society and say, “You know what, we’re tired of this happening. So what can we do?”

Len Sipes: So the lessons just aren’t for the criminal justice system. The sense that I’m getting is the lessons are for the larger society. Stop blaming victims, do acknowledge that it can happen to you, take the steps to make sure, to the best of your ability, that it can happen to you and if you’re in the criminal justice system, for the love of heavens, as you’ve just said, treat me, treat that victim as if you’re, as if you would want your mother treated, as if you want your wife or husband to be treated, as you want to be treated. Treat the person with all the respect you possibly can.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And I think sometimes the best people who are in the criminal justice system have been those who have been victimized somehow. You know, I have prosecutors who have come to me and said, you know, “My sister was killed x amount of years ago and this just really focused me to be the person that I am today.” And you can see a difference in treatment of victims by those people. You know, I have police officers who have lost friends, who – different circumstances and different situations have happened that have given them that drive that they absolutely treat people differently. I’ve also heard prosecutors say to victims, in a drunk driving case in particular, “It doesn’t matter if they hit a mailbox or if they hit a person, you’re no different.”

Len Sipes: Well, and the bottom line is that again, this is the real, I think, heart of the problem, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned. We, as individuals, we as human beings, can only process so much. How many people can we assist in terms of victims of crime, to the point where… The sympathy I think that those of us in the criminal justice system – the sympathy for victims is there. But there’s only so many horror stories you can process as a human being and when you have case upon case upon case, you‘ve got to proceed as quickly as you possibly can and quite frankly, I get the sense, from those of us in the system, that sometimes victims just get in the way. Victims can be demanding in terms of time, in terms of explanation, and sometimes you feel, rightly or wrongly, and in this case I’ll say wrongly, that you lack the time. Not the empathy, but you lack the time and you lack the emotional ability – victim after victim after victim – to give that sort of treatment to that victim as if you would your grandmother, as if you would your husband, as if you would your own son. Sometimes we lack the ability to do that.

Lisa Spicknall: And that’s when I would suggest leaning on your victim advocates. Most agencies, most departments, most prosecutors have victim advocates and if they don’t, there’s organizations out there that do have victim advocates that will work with victims. That’s what our jobs are. You know?

Len Sipes: And that becomes very important, because you did, for many years, work as a victim’s advocate for a law enforcement agency.

Lisa Spicknall: Correct, and I still work as a victim advocate, for a non-profit agency now. So I still do the victimization work and I still work with the victims. You know, like I said, in some of my training it’s one of the biggest things I tell. “We’re here for you. We’re here as victim advocates to help you. If you have a case that you need that extra, you know, needs that extra push or needs that extra hand holding or shoulder to cry on, give us a call, because that’s what we do. That’s what our focus is and we have that time to dedicate to those victims that you may not have.”

Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. I want to reintroduce Lisa Spicknall. She is a program manager for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, The show today is “Victim’s Rights from a Victim’s Perspective.” Lisa, let me ask you this, is that considering everything that you’ve been through, both personally and professionally, does it ever exhaust you?

Lisa Spicknall: It does. And there comes times where you need to step back for a little bit and take a break and take a breath and find something to reenergize yourself. I have heard some fantastic speakers, I have come away with reaching points where it’s like, “Okay, I can’t do this anymore.” And then I’ll think about my children. I’ll think about Destiny and Richie and say, “You know what? This is why I do what I do.” It reenergizes me. It really – my goal and what my goal has been for the past 14 years, is to make sure that there’s never another Destiny and Richie. And although I can’t prevent what happened to me from happening again, I can at least speak out and I can say, “This is what happens, this is how you don’t treat somebody, this is how they should be treated. And let’s see how we can work together to fix the issue that’s going on.”

Len Sipes: But the system is sloppy, is it not? The criminal justice system, I mean, I don’t watch any crime shows on television because I can’t. You know, you have young people who are in the prime of their lives with equipment that Apple would be jealous of – Google would be jealous of. They’re surrounded by state of the art equipment, they’ve got all the time in the world, they’re running all of these tests, and that’s not the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system is this huge entity that plods along under its own steam and sometimes we, you know, we just don’t have the precision that people expect from us. I constantly laugh at crime scene investigations because there are very few crime scene investigations, if any, that go down the way that it’s portrayed on television. So do we have, does society have an unrealistic expectation of those of us in the criminal justice system in terms of what it is we can do, could do, should do?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we do. I think, you know, and I’m with you – I don’t watch the crime scene shows. I try to steer far away from that. It’s just something that I’ve chosen a long time ago not to do. But I think we do. I think seeing the CSIs and the different shows like that, it really gives people, “Well, this can be solved in a one hour program.” Well, it doesn’t work that way in real life, and you know, I tell victims all the time – they want to make sure all there i’s are dotted, all their t’s are crossed before they can give you any answers. Sometimes that arrest doesn’t happen in the first five minutes or the first, you know, 24 hours. Sometimes it’s days, it’s weeks, it’s months at a time – if not…I’ve seen cases go on for years without arrest.

Len Sipes: Yes.

Lisa Spicknall: And trying to explain to the victims, take everything that you know, everything that you think you know, and throw it out. And let’s start fresh. Let’s start with reality and what reality is. I think TV does us a very large disservice in how the criminal justice system actually is and it gives people a very unrealistic expectation of what goes on and what can happen.

Len Sipes: Agreed, agreed, agreed. Now, what do you do with victims – and I’ve been dealing with victims throughout my career. And when I was a law enforcement officer I had a direct contact with the victims of crime. And from time to time I would go back and check on them. And again, these are not necessarily violent crimes. It could be an elderly couple with a burglary. It could be an individual whose child has left and we don’t know if the child left – an older child – we don’t know if the child left voluntarily or if the child was kidnapped. I mean, there are so many uncertainties. I would check back with them and in many cases, I would find them mired in one place, that they could not get beyond what happened to them. Again, making the decision to move or making the decision to leave an area or with a violent crime, not being able to get beyond it. What do you say to people under those set of circumstances?

Lisa Spicknall: Something that I’ve learned over the past many years that I’ve done this is, a victim’s going to be as healed as they can possibly be by five years. Once they’ve reached that five year point, there’s no further, no back –that’s how they’re going to be. And I see that a lot. You know, I think you going back six months, a year later, two years later, just to check on them, they’re always going to remember that, and they’re never going to forget that, and I think that’s absolutely fantastic that you were able and did that, because they’re going to remember that, and that’s going to help them make some decisions and make some hard decisions in life. You know, you’re still out there looking for that runaway child or that kidnapped child – somebody’s still thinking about them and somebody’s still keeping that case there. But I think for people to realize that it usually takes anywhere between five and seven years for people to get to a state of normalcy or what their new normalcy is going to be. You know, I’ll be completely honest, there’s some days still that I – knowing that it will never happen, but still have that thought in the back of the head, you know, “Are Destiny and Richie going to walk through that door today? Am I going to see them again?” Knowing that it’s never going to happen, but you still have those songs, those senses, those different little reminders that pop up.

Len Sipes: This is something that’s a life-long event.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: And I think those of us in the criminal justice system need to understand that. For us it is the time that we involve ourselves with the victims on a professional level. For the victims, it is a life-long event and that life-long event applies to lesser crimes as well. So I did not want to demean that person who went through those burglaries and who decided, you know, to spend $1,000 on a security system, or to leave that community. That’s an event that will be with them for the rest of their lives and shape who they are.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And that’s going to change things that they do. I think about now, when I walk out into a parking lot, you know, I have two young boys and I make sure that they are with me, especially – more so at the holidays. I mean, they’re always with me, but more so when times are a little tougher, when you know things are happening and there’s been a rash of burglaries in the area or you know, pocketbook snatching, things like that, I always make sure I have my keys in my hand when I walk to my car. I just did it when I left the courthouse this morning. Had my keys in my hand, I have an auto start on my car, I make sure my car is running. When I get in, I lock the doors. Nothing’s happened to me, but I think that the job that I do and the crimes that I’ve seen have kind of shaped me more into that person.

Len Sipes: Sure.

Lisa Spicknall: Just because you know what can happen, you know? One of the questions that we ask a lot of our police officers, “Does your job make you do things differently than before you were a police officer?” Absolutely it does.

Len Sipes: My daughters would complain bitterly that they have an ex-cop/criminologist/spokesperson for the criminal justice system as a father, because I had something that I called the parking lot drill. We do not dilly dally in parking lots, we get in the car, we do not examine what it is we bought, we do not discuss the day, we get in the car, we lock the doors, we keep our eyes open and we leave nice and peacefully.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So they would say to me, you know, “Boy, you’ve done made us paranoid.” And I said, “Well, that’s, sorry, you were brought up by somebody who’s been in the criminal justice system for 40 years and I don’t want to see you guys victimized in the same way that I’ve seen so many other people victimized.” So this is something that is part of everybody, every victim’s day to day process. It could have happened 15 years ago and yet it’s still going to be part of who they are.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. It changes who you are, it changes who you become, and it changes what you do and what your decisions are each and every day.

Len Sipes: Last five minutes of the program. So for those of us in the criminal justice system, and we talk to lots of aides to mayors, county executives, state executives. We talk to aides up at Congress. We simply need to be, to humanize the process and to be as service oriented as we possibly can.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely, absolutely.

Len Sipes: What else?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we need –

Len Sipes: What else do we need to know?

Lisa Spicknall: I think we need to put victims first. You know, a lot of – I attended a hearing today, it was a post conviction hearing and everything that happened in the courtroom today was the offender’s needs, the offender’s wants, the offender’s – the offender, the offender. And I sat with a family of about 20 victims and had to explain to them that unfortunately, at this time, this is the way the criminal justice system is. I think we need to start looking at victims and start realizing what their needs are and how a postponement affects them physically, emotionally, every ounce of their being. They’ve built themselves up so much to do and take the next steps, that when the next steps fall through, they just – it really takes them back to day one. So I think putting victims first, I think humanizing the crime and I think treating people, essentially, as you would want to be treated in this situation is very helpful.

Len Sipes: For virtually all major criminal justice organizations including ours here at Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency we have victims’ advocates that work with individuals from the larger community. So part of it is relying upon the victims’ advocates that you have within your own organization and everybody listening to this needs to understand that there are victims’ advocates in every major criminal justice organization. But the victims’ advocates are going to be dealing with that individual, oh, I don’t know, afterwards. The key interaction that they’re going to have, that victims are going to have, are going to be with the cops, are going to be with the prosecutors, are going to be with the parole and probation agents and we just need to up our game when it comes to victims.

Lisa Spicknall: Right. I agree.

Len Sipes: Laws, legislation – I know that Will Marling of the National Organization of Victim assistance is trying to get a constitutional, national constitutional amendment to protect victims of crimes. Is there something else the system can do formally?

Lisa Spicknall: I think getting the national constitutional amendment would be a step in the right direction. I think it would give us and afford us protections federally, as opposed to just state by state. So I think that’s the best start and that’s where a lot of energy needs to be focused.

Len Sipes: So much of my early training in both law and constitutional law and law enforcement was that victims were to be treated with respect, but kept at arm’s length.

Lisa Spicknall: Right.

Len Sipes: That was the original, that was my original training, it really was. That victims are there to be kept in a bucket, off to the side and don’t be nasty to them and try to list all the information you possibly can, but you know, son of a gun, sometimes they get in the way. And so my sense is, and my guess would be that your sense is is that it still permeates the criminal justice system today.

Lisa Spicknall: Absolutely. And I think until we can really get in there and get to the root of that and have everyone realize that that doesn’t work anymore, then it’s not going to change.

Len Sipes: Do people look at your, do you tell people about your background when you’re dealing with victims?

Lisa Spicknall: Not a lot of times. Quite often people put the name together. It might take them a little while, but they’ll put the name together and realize that they’ve heard it somewhere. When I work with victims, I am specific to their needs, their case and what’s going on in their life. I think my situation and where I’ve come from makes me a better advocate, it makes me more understandable for what happens and gives them a whole new insight into the criminal justice system and what can happen, just because I’ve walked the path.

Len Sipes: But when you talk to people like me and when people like me bring it back up again, then, you know, when I turn the record button off and hang up the Skype connection, then you’ve got to sit back and do what? You’ve got to process the fact that you had to, for the one millionth time, deal with what happened to you.

Lisa Spicknall: I do, but you know, what, everybody who hears this program, and everybody who hears our conversation is going to walk away knowing Destiny and Richie, and that’s why I do what I do.

Len Sipes: And that’s the important thing, because their tragic deaths have brought a lot of relief to literally thousands of victims through the effort on the national, state level, through all the publicity. When I was doing the Google searches for your name and your circumstances, it’s really amazing to me as to how, you know, ABC News, Parade magazine, lots of other publications, people have gone so far as to call you a hero. Do you believe that you’re a hero?

Lisa Spicknall: Um, I think I’m a mom that wants to do, still do good by her kids.

Len Sipes: And I think that’s the best possible answer. Lisa Spicknall, ladies and gentlemen, we’re discussing today victim’s rights from a victim’s perspective. Lisa is program manager, a program manager for Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety. We appreciate your comments, we even appreciate your criticisms and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]