Social Biography Videos
Often times the story of family, community, and future
prospects of someone entangled in the criminal justice system is not fully
introduced into the discussion of charges and sentencing. Silicon Valley De-Bug
-- which created an organizing model for families to impact the court system --
has started producing "video social biographies" to change the
context of how someone facing charges is perceived and understood. The videos,
produced in collaboration with the family and the attorney, is a tool defense
attorneys are now using to reduce charges, remove strike priors, and impact
sentencing. The medium of video, which can now be produced at low-cost and with
little experience, has the capacity to bring a personal and more comprehensive
sharing of a person's life in a way that can change the decision-making context
of the court process. Below are four examples, and their impact on the outcome of the case. Read Raj Jayadev's article on social biography videos, How New Media Is Changing Public Defense, published by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA), and check out the webinar De-Bug gave to NLADA attorneys.
Brice: Outcome, Reduced Potential 15 Year Sentence by HalfThis video was used during sentencing, played at the hearing on a screen, and resulted in the winning of a Romero motion to strike a strike prior, and for the judge to select the mitigated term of the sentence. Brice's exposure to 15 years was reduced to five and a half years.
Willard Brits -- Outcome, Won His Release from a 3 Strikes Case (6:50)This video was produced in under a week, and was requested by the defense attorney. It was used to stop the DA's office from contesting his re-sentencing, as Mr. Brits was eligible for re-sentencing through Prop.36. The defense attorney gave the video to the DA's 3 Strikes panel, and he said it was "very effective." The video was produced under the editorial guidance of the attorney.
Xavier Espana: This video is an accompaniment to the "Xavier España: Social Biography and Future Prospects Portfolio" -- a compilation of letters, photos, written testimonies and certificates describing Xavier from the perspective of his family, church, and educational mentors.
Emigdio Arreola -- Outcome, Reduced Charge: No Jail and Protection of Immigration Relief Options.
This video was used by the defense attorney to "show" the argument she was making to the prosecutor. Namely, that Emigdio (an 18 year old undocumented immigrant), who was charged with a felony for allegedly stealing a car, was responsible young man who was the caretaker of his impoverished family. Emigdio was the main bread-winner for his family, which included two young siblings who he helped care for. The video interviews show the parents talking about how his incarceration may result in the family not making rent, character statements from his employer, and an overall picture of his life. Also included was an immigration attorney who stated that Emigdio was eligible for new forms of immigration relief, would be ineligible if he caught a felon. She used the video to bolster her argument, and got the charge reduced to an immigration relief safe misdemeanor, and weekend work program, rather then a year in jail.