VIDEO: 5 Minute Talk on Participatory Defense at PopTech 2015!

Below is a 5 minute talk on participatory defense we gave at PopTech 2015, a gathering of social innovators and scientists who are bringing new ideas to the world’s most challenging problems. We were fortunate to be a Poptech Fellow, where we were able to receive guidance and mentorship on how to expand our work from some of the world’s most dynamic social innovators and thought-leaders. Here is the talk we gave on participatory defense.


Author Howard Franklin: For Public Defenders ACJP is a Godsend

Editor’s Note: With great honor we publish this guest post from Howard Franklin, a retired public defender who wrote the acclaimed novel Gideon’s Children. If you haven’t picked it up, please do. This November, he is generously donating all book sale proceeds to ACJP!

Read the review in

Read the review in

It’s a sad fact that fifty years after the Gideon v. Wainwright decision mandated representation for every person charged with a crime, Public Defenders are still drastically underfunded, understaffed, overworked, and often disrespected by prosecutors, judges, court personnel, and sometimes their own clients.

As illustrated in my novel, Gideon’s Children, Public Defenders are outnumbered by prosecutors by as much as 3 to 1, depending upon the jurisdiction. When I served as a Los Angeles County Public Defender in the late Sixties, and was stationed in the Compton Judicial District, I faced calendars of 10 Felony Preliminary Hearings or 25 Misdemeanor cases alone, while the prosecution had two or three Deputy DAs handling the State’s interests. And while the prosecution had the assistance detailed below, I had me, myself, and I. Continue reading

The Free Press: “A National Model of Truth and Justice for All”

Thanks to The Free Press in Maine for covering our talk at Poptech! Click their image to read the full story.


Eight out of ten people who face the justice system in the U.S. can’t afford a lawyer.  Raj Jayadev, director of De-Bug, a media company in San Jose, California, saw that the accused were cut off from their families and other resources and didn’t know how to navigate the court system. Typically, they got a public defender who was stretched thin across too many cases. Ninety percent of those who are charged in the U.S. and can’t afford a lawyer plead guilty without ever going to trial, regardless of whether they are innocent or have extenuating circumstances that could lessen their sentence, said Jayadev. “It looked like a conveyor belt to jail,” he said. Read more >>>

VIDEO: What is Quality Representation?

We recently had the honor of sharing our work and perspectives to a powerful group of social scientists, public defenders, and academics from across the country who came together through the National Science Foundation and the New York State Indigent Legal Services to discuss a profoundly important question for anyone concerned with justice: What is quality representation? 

So to bring something to the table, we just asked people who come to our meetings for families who’s loved ones are facing the court system that basic question. Some respondents have had various experiences with defense attorneys, some are family members, some are organizers who work regularly with families. We showed this video at the convening. If you have an answer to the question, send it in to us!


Participatory Defense at PopTech Hybrid 2015!

We recently had the honor to share our participatory defense model at PopTech Hybrid — a convening in Maine of scientists, social innovators, and international thoughts leaders. It was a tremendous opportunity for us to learn about how people from around the world have moved from bold ideas to society changing movements. Much gratitude to the PopTech faculty who spent time lending their wisdom to help imagine a road map for participatory defense to become the “new norm”, and the incredible Poptech Social Innovation and Science Fellows who are well on their way in changing the world as we know it — saving lives, the earth, and our collective future. From Kenya to Karnatika — we see you! Check out this visual graphic of our PopTech talk on participatory defense by the talented Peter Durand. Video to come soon! (Click on image to see more graphic interpretations of other PopTech talks!)



6 Participatory Defense Steps for Effective Trial Monitoring

Do More Than Hope for a “Not Guilty”

The following participatory defense activities are for families, organizations, and communities who’s loved ones are going to trial, and they want to do more than simply wait and hope for a not guilty verdict. While participatory defense is most effective if the model is used as early as possible in a case, even if first initiating engagement at the trial level, families and communities can have an impact on the outcome. The tactics described below is not an exhaustive list, but are just a few ways to ensure the best trial outcome for your loved one. For example, there is plenty of work to do previous to the actual start of trial, as well as ways to impact a sentencing if the trial results in a conviction.

So while these steps can be employed at the start of the trial, it is best if the family or support community has been already working with the defense attorney in a participatory defense framework. As such:

— The person facing trial should make sure they communicate their consent to the attorney that he or she can speak to the family regarding the case.

— The family and community should already have a collaborative working relationship with the attorney.

— The person facing trial and their supporters should have reviewed all the relevant materials and discovery in the case.

— The person facing trial and their supporters knows as much as possible about what the defense lawyer is planning to do to win the case.

(If these prerequisites have not been met, they would be the “homework” for the family and community before trial begins.) Continue reading

Reflections from Rusty: The Man Who Won His Freedom from 3 Life Sentences “Never Give Up, and You are the Best Advocate For Your Loved One!”

Rusty and his mom hugging as he leaves jail, a free man after having served four years of what would have been 3 life sentence.

Rusty and his mom hugging as he leaves jail, a free man after having served four years of what would have been 3 life sentence.

To everyone at De-Bug, and all families who are fighting within our court systems: I saw this posting of my plight, as well as the plight of all those who fought along side me, and I was very touched. It was a very difficult battle, one that I almost gave up on many times over, but that is NEVER THE ANSWER! No matter how overwhelming the challenge may seem. This goes for ALL involved. Some will fall by the wayside, but this is inevitable, and cannot be a deterrent. I asked my mother for permission to leave this life, for I felt defeated, but she, as well as others, such as my daughter, step son, attorney, brothers, and Raj, from De Bug, reignighted my will to fight for my life, and for me to lead by example.

My attorney Jessica Burt-Smith and I buckled down and collaborated on EVERYTHING making sure that we fought with everything we could, despite the Court’s many efforts to shut us down. We still lost in trial, and it was devastating! I stood up and yelled at the jury and District Attorney: “YOU JUST STOLE MY LIFE; YOU GOT IT WRONG!”

Again, I felt defeated and wanted to give up. I was sentenced to 3 Life sentences, plus 34 years, for a total term of 109 years to life. I also received divorce papers at the same time. I lost everything, and another fight to overcome all of this seemed impossible. My attorney looked me in the eyes with tears in hers, and told me not to give up, that the fight was not over, that there was still my appeal. I did not believe in the system, for I had just been falsely convicted, so I certainly did not have faith in any appeal. Continue reading

MUSIC VIDEO: No ICE Collaboration with County Jails

Santa Clara County has long been a national leader in creating a safe community for immigrants by drawing a clear line between ICE and the law enforcement and promoting meaningful immigrant integration. Now our county elected officials want to revisit the possibility of entangling ICE with local law enforcement, creating a less safe community for all. Community groups and leaders led an action this month to urge the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to reject PEP COMM and not allow ICE to dictate our county’s criminal justice system. (The below music video was projected on a wall in the County building as part of an action by the FIRE coalition.)

Rusty, His Mom, and His Public Defender > Life in Prison

Santa Clara County Public Defender Jessica Smith, leaving court with Rusty's mom after freeing him from a life sentence. Together, they walked straight to the jail to see when he was getting out later that day.

Santa Clara County Public Defender Jessica Smith, leaving court with Rusty’s mom after freeing him from a life sentence. Together, they walked straight to the jail to see when he was getting out later that day.

Around four years ago, a couple of us from De-Bug walked into the public defender’s office around 10pm to turn in one of the first social bio videos we ever made. It was a life case. Court was the next day, and we had asked the public defender, Jessica, when was the latest we could turn it in to her that evening. She said she would be working late, likely throughout the night, so not to worry. Despite the universe seeming determination to send her client Rusty to prison for life — Jessica was going to fight with everything she had, with every second she could.

We had visited Rusty in jail before — he was as charismatic and likable as the various people who came to our participatory defense meetings said he would be. That phrase, “you just have to meet him” comes up often at our meetings with families, but the truth is, it is always been a useful instruction for us to follow. We also go to know Rusty by interviewing the people who loved him. Rusty grew up in rural Idaho, which also led to some challenges on how to capture important family voices for his video, since they lived thousands of miles away. Some of the family, including his mother, actually recorded their interview from her ranch in Idaho, responding to question we gave them through phone and email.  Continue reading

Family Prevents 15 Year Prison Sentence Through Social Biography Packet

Submission by Cecilia Chavez

The author, Cecilia, facilitating a skye training on how to build social biography packets.

The author, Cecilia, facilitating a skype training on how to build social biography packets.

I met Jose (name changed) five months ago. He came into De-Bug with his mom who had worked with us previously in another one of her son’s case. Jose, who was 19 and undocumented, was facing serious charges — up to 15 years of incarceration for an alleged incident that was not a reflection of who he was as a young man. Days previous to the alleged incident he had gone through some traumatic experiences with his stepfather and on top of that was mourning the death of his biological father in Mexico. When the family came to our participatory defense meeting, they were prepared and brought supporting information to help counteract the picture that had been painted of Jose by the police reports. Shortly after, we sat down with his attorney and started collecting more social biographical information such as character references, proof of enrollment in programs that were helping him deal with is trauma, and  other material that could support his case. With all this, I helped the family build a social biography packet that was used by his public defender when they negotiated with the prosecutor. Continue reading