A high profile client in a widely publicized case is disparaged in the media. We have all seen it, a “reality show” played over and over. Everybody has a comment, an opinion, a judgment. Similarly, the Court is barraged by reports from the government highlighting all of the client’s horrible conduct and a request for the maximum sentence. Your client has devoted most of his life giving to others. There are hundreds of letters of support. Some people are very moved when talking about how your client has helped them or changed their lives. Should they submit letters? Will their letters be lost in a sea of hundreds of others?
The barrage of media reports reflected poorly on the client’s character. There was, however, another side of the story that was not conveyed in the media accounts. What was not revealed was a lifetime of quiet, unassuming acts of humanity. Upon speaking with those closest to the client, what was striking was the emotion they expressed in relating his acts of kindness. But would they be able to convey that degree of gratitude they felt in a written letter to the judge—a letter mixed in with 200 others? Would the judge feel their appreciation? Would the judge hear their gratitude? Would the judge understand the impact of the client’s kindness on their lives?
It was clear that something more was needed to convey these emotional and sincere sentiments. How should this information—the client’s private, humble, personal history, a side not viewed in the public eye—be presented to the court?
What is the purpose of the video? There were many letters with good stories about the client’s character. The purpose of producing the video was simple. It was to focus on the most meaningful stories of his kindness and those that attested to his true character. It was the perfect way for the court to hear, feel, and understand the client’s character.
Who should be interviewed? Determine your goal, choose the right people, ask the right questions. After interviewing clients, their family members, and other relevant persons for many years, determining the appropriate questions and obtaining the right kind of information might seem intuitive. It is a collaborative effort to develop a strategy with the client and the defense team in identifying which are the strongest mitigating factors and who is best suited to explain, provide examples, and verify these factors. The best material has been obtained by asking the appropriate questions and obtaining responses that prompted more pertinent questions, achieving a much better result than anticipated.
What is the most effective method to present the video to the judge? In all of my cases where videos were used, the videos were submitted to the court as an attachment to the sentencing memorandum.
Length of video? The video must be compelling so as not to lose the judge’s interest. An appropriate goal is to keep the video under 15-20 minutes. Editing the information is time-consuming. After interviewing 8 to 10 people—with a total interview time running 12 to 15 hours—some stories are eliminated and others are greatly condensed. However, choosing the stories with the most relevance to your goal and desired impact is an equally important part of the process.
There is a concern that the use of video will become commonplace so as to lose its impact. It is important to select cases carefully and choose only those cases whose mitigating circumstances are extraordinary or unique.
It is often difficult to determine which factors contributed to the judge’s decision to impose a lower sentence. However, in at least two of my cases where we submitted a video for sentencing, the judge acknowledged and emphasized the defendant’s history of good deeds and kindness towards others. It was clear that the emotion and sincerity of the sentiments expressed in the video had a specific impact on the judge’s decision.
[Image via ECampus News]