Defense-Initiated Victim Outreach (DIVO) is a new program that seeks to address the needs of crime victims and their families throughout the legal process by providing a bridge between them and the attorneys who represent the defendant, especially in capital cases. Recognizing the historic gap, defense attorneys seek the assistance of trained Victim Outreach Specialists (VOS) to serve as a liaison to the defense team for a survivor’s questions and concerns. Although this service is requested by the defense, it is victim centered and victim driven. The VOS is considered an expert consultant but operates independently of the defense.
DIVO was born out of the ashes of the Oklahoma City bombing when the defense wanted to reach out in some way to survivors and to acknowledge the depth of their pain and suffering. To that end, DIVO was created with the goal of reducing unnecessary tension with the defense for victim survivors and other crime victims who already bear the brunt of the crime.
DIVO was also built on the recognition that crime, especially murder, creates an involuntary relationship between the victim and the defendant. It is forced upon victims/victim-survivors as a result of the crime. This destructive tie has profound consequences for victim survivors’ ability to cope and move on from the crime. In line with the tenets of restorative justice, DIVO seeks to acknowledge that relationship and the corresponding obligation for the defense, as proxy for the defendant, to respond to the needs of crime victims to the extent possible.
DIVO has been authorized in a growing number of federal cases and is fast emerging at the state level including in Texas. The American Bar Association has issued guidelines in support of the connection between the defense and victim survivors through the services of a liaison, such as a VOS.
DIVO offers victim-survivors and other crime victims a long overdue resource to help them through the aftermath of having survived or endured a criminal offense. Survivors can share their concerns, request information, and receive a response directly from the defense. DIVO has been used in cases where victim survivors wanted
- Information about the defendant and his/her family.
- Information about the crime.
- An opportunity to express feelings about the defense team itself.
- Questions about defense strategy.
- Input into plea decisions.
- Request for certain considerations during court proceedings.
- Whether and how they wish to interact with the defense during court proceedings.
- Return of non-evidentiary property
DIVO promotes collaboration with victim advocates who with the prosecution. Accordingly, the defense is asked to notify the prosecution about their decision to use a VOS. Similarly, the VOS makes contact with the prosecution-based victim advocate to answer questions about DIVO, its services and procedures. The VOS relationship with victim-survivors and other crime victims is confidential. No information is shared with the defense team or others unless the victims survivors/crime victims expressly request the VOS to convey questions, needs or requests.