DC Pro Bono Week Profiles 2021: Blair Decker – Advancing Crime Victims’ Rights
By Reneé Carrico
We at Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC) are grateful for the steadfast support of the firms and dedicated volunteers that participate in our pro bono program. NVRDC seeks to transform systems that serve crime victims* to be more equitable, transparent, and responsive to the diverse needs of survivors.
While an individual may be ultimately responsible for asserting their own rights, in order to achieve equity, survivors need the information to understand what those rights are and what the limitations are within the system. Our systems must adapt to the reality that survivors’ identities often impact which systems they can trust and feel safe to engage in. This is especially true for survivors from marginalized communities who experience higher rates of violence and face greater barriers when seeking help, including systemic racism, sexism, or other forms of oppression. Conversely, institutions that serve survivors must also understand their responsibilities and obligations to crime victims. This work requires the attention of skilled legal advocates who understand the complex issues and systems that crime victims must navigate.
Without pro bono support, only crime victims with the financial resources to hire skilled attorneys would benefit from the formidable array of victims’ rights laws and benefits applicable in the District of Columbia. The natural inertia of the criminal legal system and the highly adversarial interests of those involved creates an environment where victims’ rights are susceptible to encroachment. Since the incredible majority of crime victims cannot afford their own attorneys, crime victims are often left without even knowing they had rights that could have been enforced.
In line with their pro bono initiative to break down systemic barriers combating discrimination in criminal justice, Hogan Lovells, LLP (Hogan Lovells) has been a champion of our work in crime victims’ rights in the District of Columbia. Senior Pro Bono Attorney, Blair Decker, and others at Hogan Lovells, have accepted a wide range of pro bono opportunities at NVRDC and have positively affected our work with crime victims and surviving family members of homicide victims, and have facilitated a broader systemic transformation in a variety of ways.
On a national level, Blair has supported NVRDC in drafting amicus briefs, including one in the 5th Circuit on state-created danger doctrine – whereby the state can be held liable when a state actor, such as a police officer, creates dangerous circumstances that allow for a third party to deprive someone of their constitutional rights.
On a local level, Hogan Lovells’ attorneys supported NVRDC in ensuring our criminal legal system is easier to navigate for victims. Hogan Lovells did this through an initiative to develop a Pro Se Guide for Crime Victims in the District to promote the empowerment of all crime victims and not just those who were able to access crime victims’ rights attorneys.
Blair has also taken a lead role in addressing how victims seek legal assistance when their claims are denied by the District’s Crime Victim Compensation Program (CVCP). This program provides critical financial support to crime victims, and it can help victims with costs ranging from urgent safe housing to reimbursements for medical bills and lost earnings. When these claims are denied, the resulting financial burden can drastically affect a victim’s ability to recover from the crime committed against them or engage in the criminal legal system. Hogan Lovells’ support led to an analysis of the District’s CVCP, how claims are reviewed, what statutes and court rules govern the CVCP, and how a claim might be presented for reconsideration, or appealed, in the aftermath of an unfavorable decision. As CVCP claim denials disproportionately impact victims according to their economic status, we hope this work will help promote a more transparent and accessible process.
Hogan Lovells’ work was not limited to the criminal legal system. The firm also assisted NVRDC to draft inter-organization partnership agreements, one of which has supported the Community Violence Intervention Program at Medstar Washington, which aims to help violently injured patients access additional services and concrete resources within the community after leaving the hospital. In addition, Hogan Lovells drafted a guide for hospital employees that details the rights of a crime victim in a hospital setting, including information about searches and seizures, police questioning, video interviews, blood tests, and the disclosure of patient information to police.
While Hogan Lovells made significant contributions to NVRDC’s systemic advocacy efforts, it also took the time to assist many of our clients with their individual cases. Blair has provided pro bono services to victims needing Civil Protection Orders (CPOs) and helped crime victims exert their rights in criminal cases. Where, for example, the government or defense has sought to subpoena a victim’s personal or confidential records, Blair has upheld and enforced the victim’s right to privacy. The exertion of this right in particular is a part of the groundbreaking litigation that will help shift how criminal courts perceive and enforce the rights of crime victims. Blair has similarly litigated issues pertaining to a victim’s right to notice of court and parole proceedings, the victim’s right to be heard regarding the defendant’s conditions, and enforced victims’ rights to confer with prosecutors about case dispositions or plea offer terms.
From representing the mother of a homicide victim to arguing for constitutional rights at the national level, Blair and Hogan Lovells have worked tirelessly with NVRDC to address systemic change in the criminal legal system from all angles. This critical work bridges the equity divide by providing all crime victims with access to vital legal services in an otherwise nuanced legal field. We are excited to continue this journey into the next year, and beyond.
*NVRDC uses both the terms “survivor” and “victim” in this piece, since both are accepted by a variety of clients, and with the latter being a legal term of art. However, NVRDC uses the term a client prefers.
Reneé Carrico is the Pro Bono and Elder Justice Coordinator for the Network for Victim Recovery DC.