Video Production Is Helping To Reduce Criminal Charges

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( — October 7, 2023) — Traditional plea-bargain negotiations are getting an upgrade that just might make them more convincing. That’s good news for attorneys who need to influence better client outcomes, like lighter sentences, bail, and dismissed cases. So, what is this upgrade? Documentary-style videos.

Mitigation videos are gaining traction

Legal Aid Society attorney Nicole Mull has been working with filmmaker David Simpson to create documentary-style, influential videos to help their clients get more lenient outcomes in the courtroom. The videos – dubbed ‘mitigation videos’ – are made to elicit lenient treatment from judges and prosecutors, including reduced charges.

These videos are produced like a mini-documentary that establishes context for the defendant’s life with stories from their life and where they grew up. Like every good documentary, they also consist of interviews with the defendant along with people in their life, like family and friends, psychologists, and social workers who have interacted with them. Some videos are short, 20-minute segments, while others are much longer.

The length of a video depends on how many people are interviewed, how complex a person’s case is, and what it will take to influence the court. When facing criminal charges, attorneys know how to influence a judge, and they will use whatever content promises to be powerful in the presentation. However, music is excluded because it often feels manipulative and can distract judges and district attorneys.

These videos are similar to submitting letters to the court, but letters are one-dimensional. Videos are multidimensional and make it possible to convey emotion, which is how they influence outcomes.

So far, these videos appear to be making a difference, although they aren’t common enough to perform any significant studies. Out of 23 videos used so far, 16 have influenced a more favorable outcome compared to what prosecutors have offered.

Mitigation videos are going mainstream

Previously, these types of videos have been reserved for wealthy defendants. High-end productions can cost over $10,000. Since they’re no different from any other video production, it takes time and expertise to create a final production, and video editing isn’t cheap. However, the Legal Aid clinic wants to bring these videos to marginalized clients who aren’t wealthy.

To meet this need, Fordham Law clinics have students form teams to work with a defendant on creating a video during the spring semester. The teams spend most of their time gathering information through research in order to craft a strong argument. Interviews are planned and conducted by the students, but post-production and editing are all handled by the Legal Aid team.

Video storytelling is powerfully influential

People are predominantly visual, and telling visual stories through video is one of the easiest ways to influence another person’s thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Movies can even change someone’s outlook on life. For example, you’ve probably seen at least one film that impacted your life in a big way, even if it just made you feel empathy for the characters. This is precisely why mitigation videos are being used. A good video can elicit empathy for the defendant, which is how more favorable outcomes are achieved.

There is a reason some Hollywood movies are so popular; people can watch them over and over again – it makes them feel good. When people want to feel a certain way, they’ll watch a movie that will create that feeling.

Movies also help people understand cultures they may never have the chance to experience. For example, the movie City of God takes place in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and depicts what life is really like for people who live there, and it’s not pretty. This most certainly impacts the viewer. In the same way, mitigation videos are used to show the reality of how a defendant grew up, which is intended to elicit empathy and mitigate harsh sentences.

Movies are great, but attorneys are still necessary

When facing criminal charges, hiring a lawyer is always a good idea to secure the best possible outcome. Just because movies have the potential to influence court case outcomes doesn’t mean they can do the job on their own.

While mitigation videos have a strong potential to favorably influence case outcomes, they’re still somewhat experimental, and some judges may feel resistant to the idea, which could backfire.

If you’re facing serious charges and want to know if you can make a mitigation video to help your case, the answer is yes, but you still need a lawyer. People who represent themselves in criminal cases are at a disadvantage, and even the best video production team can’t change that.