You’ve done your best to defend your client, but he is being convicted anyway, whether you expected it or not. Now it’s time to do what you can to get him a lighter sentence. A sentencing mitigation video could help with that.
Sentencing mitigation videos still aren’t widespread, but affluent defendants and public defenders use them to bring the materials presented in a sentencing memo to life. These videos typically aren’t very long or flashy – they merely lay out the details of a defendant’s circumstances so the judge can get some context for the person’s crimes or learn about possible mitigating factors that should be considered for sentencing. A sentencing video can be a powerful tool to help you get a more compassionate sentence for a client.
What Sentencing Mitigation Videos Are
Sentencing mitigation videos seek to put the defendant’s crime into the context of their life and environment, to show how they contribute to their family and community, and, ideally, to convincingly explain how the defendant is taking responsibility for their crimes and moving towards rehabilitation. It should also show any extenuating circumstances that could make a harsh sentence inhumane. For example, a mitigation video could argue why someone with chronic health problems should be allowed to serve their time in home confinement instead of reporting to a facility.
Mitigation videos can be effective as part of a sentencing memo because they humanize the defendant, and they can highlight critical points about a defendant’s character and background that might be easily skimmed over in the written materials. In-person testimony is still powerful, but it’s not always possible for character witnesses and others to come to court. Filming a video in the defendant’s home or place of work can subtly highlight their socio-economic circumstances and underscore character traits like family and community involvement. A video can also enable the court to see and hear how the prospect of a harsh sentence affects the defendant’s family and community.
How to Shoot an Effective Mitigation Video
As a criminal defense attorney, you can work with a video producer and editor to create sentencing mitigation videos for your clients. A mitigation video should be about seven to 20 minutes long and a no-frills presentation of information to support more compassionate sentencing for your client. A video that attempts to put a polish on the subject matter might risk offending the court. Instead, it should be more like a short, matter-of-fact documentary.
It would be best to interview your client’s family members, preferably at home or in their neighborhood. You can interview people the client works with at their place of business. You can interview social workers, psychologists, and other experts, including doctors. You can talk to friends and neighbors of your client – anyone who can advocate for a more compassionate sentence for your client by showing that your client is remorseful, has a plan to avoid committing more crimes and is needed in his community, or demonstrates extenuating circumstances.
Are These Videos Well-Received by Courts?
Since sentencing mitigation videos aren’t very common, it’s hard to say how well most courts receive them. That said, when they are used, they are often well received. For example, a collaboration between Fordham University and The Legal Aid Society has produced 23 mitigation videos for indigent defendants in New York City. Of those, 16 have made favorable outcomes compared to what prosecutors recommended.
If you want to include a sentencing mitigation video with a sentencing memorandum, first ensure the court is open to watching such a video, then submit it with the rest of your sentencing memo. You want to give the judge the chance to review the footage in chambers privately. Not only will it be easier to get people to speak on video if they know their words will only be viewed by the judge, but it also allows the judge to take in all the mitigating factors while pondering their ultimate sentencing decision. Saving a mitigation video for the sentencing hearing will probably annoy the judge and won’t affect sentencing much.
Sometimes, written materials and first-hand testimony aren’t sufficient to show your client’s character to a judge. Maybe character witnesses can’t come into court, or you’re worried written materials will be too much for a judge to get through. A sentencing mitigation video could be just what you need to get a good outcome for your client at sentencing.