Client Advocacy Films
Hi! My name is Chris Lang, and I work with the SPD training division. Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have an extensive background in documentary video production. Since starting with the SPD in 2015, I have produced several sentencing advocacy films for our staff attorneys (scroll down for testimonials and an example).
A relatively recent development in defense circles, the intent of these films is to portray more complete pictures of our clients than a judge may glean from the case file and defense team alone.
Click here for an article published in the NYTimes about the trend toward using biographical films during sentencing.
The programs we have produced tend to run between 5 and 10 minutes. They are framed around the perspective of the client’s family, friends, and other supporting individuals who are interviewed about the client.
What types of cases could benefit from sentencing advocacy films?
The best cases have a narrative thread that can be established:
1) sympathetic client (and family)
2) victim and family receptive to restorative justice
3) mitigating circumstances
4) family support before and after arrest
5) ties to the community
6) client maturity/awareness of actions (acknowledgement of the event, cooperation with investigation, feelings of remorse)
7) client plans for the future
8) extra-curricular activities: hobbies, athletics, creative outlets
9) scientific justification: effects of alcohol/drugs, poverty, race
Does a film make a difference?
Just like advertising, we can’t fully quantify the effects of these films yet. But they are starting to get noticed. The outcomes don't always change, but we like to think we have represented our clients well, and usually get good responses from judges and prosecutors, whether or not the outcome may have changed. And the clients typically appreciate our efforts to hear their stories.
These are relatively simple productions that do not involve heavy time constraints for the attorney and support staff.
What you do:
1) Drawing from your familiarity with the case and family, you will help me to determine which advocates to interview (family, friends, co-workers, prominent members of the community). These are individuals who can honestly speak to the character of the client
2) Communicate with the client's family to collect photos, home video, and documents that could be used as visuals in the film. These would represent the client on a personal level, showing interactions with family and community. Does the client have a hobby... perform volunteer work...participate in civic activities? Imagery from these activities goes a long way to humanizing our client.
What I do:
1) Brainstorm with you- we can talk about your case and come up with an honest, creative narrative.
2) Record interviews- If time allows, I can record the interviews for you. So far, I've travelled as far as Rice Lake to meet a client's family. If you have pre-recorded interviews, I can collect them for use in the video.
3) Edit- Once I have the materials (interviews and images), I can usually have a "rough cut" available to review within a week.
4) Finalize the video- Once you sign off on the video, I provide a high quality version to play in court.
Michelle Anderson - Attorney Alli Pederson, Green Bay
"After reading the multiple character letters submitted my client’s behalf, and learning her story, I thought that she might be a good fit for a sentencing video.
I wasn’t sure if video would work for this case because my client was not charged with a very severe offense. It was, however, a case where there was potential to amend the felony to misdemeanors. Chris thought that a video could have a positive effect on the outcome.
I met with the DA before we had the video in hand. He indicated a willingness to think about amending to misdemeanors but was very hesitant since the charge involved opiates.
When I showed him the video in his office, he agreed to a DJA on the felony and to a third of the jail time from the original offer. I showed it to the judge at sentencing. He approved the DJA and imposed less than a quarter of the jail time (20 days) the DA was asking for. He seemed to have been moved by the video.
I appreciate that we have this tool in our kit as public defenders. Sentencing videos are not common in the county in which I practice, even from private attorneys, and so to be able to have the resources to do them is wonderful.
My client really appreciated our work. Thanks to Chris for his time, enthusiasm, and expertise!"
Dylan Rogowski – Attorney Stephanie Thomas, Barron
“Thanks for doing the sentencing video for Dylan. It turned out great, and the word through the grapevine was that Judge Babler was not impressed with the idea, and did not understand what we were doing. His attitude and statements were along the lines of "it's a sentencing, what do you need media for". So then today when we had the hearing, Angie, the DA, was very dismissive of the idea of playing a video, and walking into the sentencing, was not pleasant to Dylan's family. It was clear she did not think anything of Dylan or his family, and she still wanted to send him to prison.
The judge had me play the video, and he was really engaged. He was taking notes, and nodding, and clearly affected by what he saw. So was Angie! She was engaged and it clearly had an affect on her. After watching the video, Judge asked Angie for her argument, and Angie referenced the video multiple times as to Dylan's character and the nature of the offense, etc.
In fact, Angie referenced the video's content as to why she was recommending probation. She didn't even ask for condition time!
Judge lectured Dylan a bit during sentencing, and complemented the video multiple times in his explanation of his sentencing. He complemented me on getting the video put together, and told Dylan he was very lucky he had me do all this for him, and then he proceeded to say that Dylan did all the work and is the one who made the video possible because he made the changes in his life and allowed there to be these people to come in for such a video to be made.
After the sentencing, where Dylan was given 3 years probation, with an imposed and stayed 18 months Initial confinement, 2 years extended supervision, Judge Babler again complemented the video, said it was really well done, and very impressive. The clerk in the courtroom also complemented the video.
At a hearing with Angie later in the afternoon, she told me the video was great…she was impressed. It clearly had an impact on her.
[The family was] all very appreciative and impressed with the video as well.
All told, the video was an absolute success, and I think we will be doing more of them as appropriate in the future!”
To view Dylan’s sentencing video, click below:
*Dylan and his family have granted permission to use his video and story for outreach.
DeAnthony Bradley – Christian Thomas, Attorney
“I just came from visiting DeAnthony and giving him the opportunity to see this video. No matter what the impact on the judge, I can tell you that it had a tremendous impact on our client. I was unprepared for the tears that followed.”
“Thank you both for your effort here. These cases are never easy, but this certainly helps to lend voice to our client and his family.”
So, about that sentencing...
“First, I want to make clear that I think that this video helped. Ultimately, the family was very unprepared to speak on Mr. Bradley's behalf in person, so this helped to provide an opportunity for their voices to be heard, in the best, most controlled form possible.
Before sentencing Mr. Bradley, the judge did remark that he thought that the evidence of Mr. Bradley's positive character outweighed that of his past. That said, the Court went on to remark that this case is far more about the aspects of the homicide that have little to do with Mr. Bradley's character and more to do with the act itself.”
“The sentence was quite harsh. Mr. Bradley was sentenced to 30 years of initial confinement.”
“The family was very upset about the outcome, but those who stuck around to talk to me felt that we did a very good job in representing him at this hearing. Thanks for your help with that!”
-Christian Thomas, Milwaukee Trial
Darien Garrett – Deja Vishny, Attorney
“Judge Rosa gave him 7.5 IC and 2.5 ES on the A/R 2.5 years concurrent on the 2nd RES (it was reduced from 1st RESWA). All in all, a very good result and I think the video made a difference. Thanks for your excellent work in this case.” -Deja Vishny, Milwaukee Trial