When I first heard about sentence mitigation documentaries or leniency videos as they're sometimes called, I couldn't believe that they were admissible in a court of law. I've now produced around a dozen of them and their popularity amongst attorneys is growing. It seems to me like the next logical step in sentence mitigation.
So, the defendant has been convicted, found guilty. Next, the judge will assign a sentence. That's where the video comes in. In the past, family members, friends, colleagues, therapists wrote letters to the judge to persuade him/her into dishing out a more lenient sentence. With all the various technologies available to us today, hand-written letters seem like an artifact from a bygone era. Also, imagine how much time it would take for the judge to sit and read through all those letters and after a while, I'm sure, they all start sounding the same. On the other hand, a video could be finished in the time it takes to read just one letter, which makes it, in my opinion, a more suitable medium. The judge is given the freedom to watch it at his/her own leisure in the privacy of their chambers or at home. I can't see a negative in this no hassle scenario. We consume video at such ravenous, unprecedented rates in our smart-phone-society. What's another short video?
I think there's something essential about being able to see the emotion on the faces of the people advocating for the defendant. While conducting the interviews, I find myself adopting a more nuanced, empathetic perspective on the person (criminal) I'm learning about for the first time. When I first hear about the crime, I might be shocked or quick to pass my own opinion/personal judgement but by the end of the video editing process I usually feel a great deal of pity for the individual and their families. Ultimately, this is what I hope to communicate to the judge.
A sentence mitigating documentary presents the defendant as a human being not just a criminal. A human being with family and friends that care for them in deep ways. As someone who might not have had the best hand dealt to them in life or maybe made one bad decision that cascaded into a serious crime.
These videos obviously won't work for every case. If the defendant lacks any sign of remorse, is a multiple offender, or has no inclination to repent and reverse course then a video of this nature might not do any good. But, If the defendant has a good heart and just slipped up or got involved in the wrong crowd and could benefit greatly from a second chance at life rather than being locked away, then chances are a video like this could help a great deal. A good documentary highlighting the positive attributes of the defendant helps to soften what might appear cut and dry on paper. It takes the black and white of the crime and conviction and, hopefully, creates some grey.
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