Pamela Blume, Ph.D., Georgia State University
John Niland, Texas Defender Service

Victim-survivors increasingly have a voice in whether prosecutors seek death sentences and thereafter offer plea bargains to capital defendants. Further, survivors’ views are routinely sought by the media and often play a significant role in pretrial publicity about capital cases. For these and related reasons, many capital defense attorneys are reconsidering their usual disconnection from victims.

Defense-initiated victim outreach, “DIVO,” has emerged as an effort to facilitate survivors’ and capital defense teams’ access to each other. Recognizing that direct contact with the defense team may be difficult for survivors, capital defense attorneys seek the assistance of specially trained experts, victim outreach specialists, to make contact with survivors on behalf of the defense. Having contact with the defense allows survivors to consider the full effects of capital proceedings and punishment upon themselves as well as upon the accused. For example, survivors who have had contact with the defense learn that defendants are often willing to agree to terms of a plea agreement that meet a number of the survivors’ interests that could not otherwise be met. In addition, defense attorneys who learn more about survivors’ experiences, interests, and concerns are better prepared to negotiate pleas or, when there is no plea, respond more sensitively to victim impact testimony at trial.

Since 1998, practitioners at the federal level have taken the lead in introducing DIVO to over a thousand capital defense attorneys across the country through participation in plenary and breakout sessions in conferences sponsored by state and federal defense organizations, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. As a result, DIVO services have been provided already in approximately 140 capital cases, half within the federal system and half in various state systems.

With funding from the US Dept of Justice – Bureau of Justice Administration, the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD), a foundation-funded project based at The University of Texas at Austin in the School of Social Work, is working in collaboration with Texas Defender Service (TDS) and the Georgia Council for Restorative Justice (GCRJ) at Georgia State University to develop and implement DIVO training for Texas capital case litigators.

This project supports the goal of making DIVO accessible in Texas through conducting training sessions for defense attorneys and prosecutors. In these daylong sessions, participants will learn the principles and process of implementing DIVO. By partnering in this project with IRJRD, TDS will also be able to expand the skills and effectiveness of its own trial consulting staff, who will become better qualified to advise and consult with capital defense teams with respect to DIVO in their death penalty cases. In combination with intensive training programs for Texas victim outreach specialists, for which federal monies have been procured, we hope to bring DIVO into capital litigation in Texas.


The curriculum for the training sessions will be adapted from the successful implementation of DIVO at the federal level and in Georgia, where the strategy of providing capital defense teams with information about the benefits of DIVO and then training them in the specific steps of implementing DIVO has proved effective. A separate curriculum will be developed for prosecutors and for a combined group of defense attorneys and prosecutors in capital cases. Building on the curriculum for defense attorneys developed by Pamela Blume Leonard, a curriculum will be developed for prosecutors by a curriculum specialist in trauma. IRJRD, TDS and GCRJ will also organize supporting resources and materials for participants, secure faculty members, and lead the training.

US Department of Justice – Bureau of Justice Assistance