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Client Advocacy Films

Hi!  My name is Chris Lang, and I work with the SPD training division. Feel free to reach out at langc@opd.wi.gov.

 

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. 

Background

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 outlets9)   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.


Process:

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. 


 

Testimonials


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!"






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