Penn Program onDocumentaries & the Law

Penn Law

Clemency Video Project

Outline of the Elements of Clemency Videos



Length of Video

Relevant Dates
  • Date of the video
  • Date of execution if scheduled
Audience Specifically Addressed
  • State’s Governor
  • Pardon Board
  • Victims/Survivors
  • Defendant’s Family Members
  • Defendant’s Community
  • Activists
  • Policymakers
  • Broadcasters
  • General public (request is made that citizens support the clemency petition)
  • Target audience is ambiguous/unknown (narrative is aimed at no specific audience)
Defendant’s Demographic Characteristics and Background as Revealed in Video
  • Gender
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Age at time of video (either a specific age or within these categories: <18, 18-25, 25-40, 40-60, 60+)
  • Age at the time of the crime
  • Education level
  • Prior/Other felony convictions
  • State convicted in
Victim Characteristics as Revealed in Video
  • Gender
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Relationship to defendant
  • Stranger to defendant
Primary Narrative Type
  • Mitigating Circumstances
  • Rehabilitation
  • Innocence
  • Procedural Irregularities
  • Sentencing Inequity
Secondary Narrative Type
  • Mitigating Circumstances
  • Rehabilitation
  • Remorse and Mercy
  • Innocence
  • Procedural Irregularities
  • Sentencing Inequity
  • Combination
  • None
Mitigating Circumstances Narrative Features
  • Mental Retardation
  • Mental Illness
  • Traumatized Childhood
  • Sexual abuse as a child
  • Specific stories of childhood abuse provided
  • Youth invoked
  • Elderly status invoked
  • Event in childhood analogized to the crime
  • Victim was culpable to some degree
  • Drug abuse/alcoholism
  • Treatment sought for substance abuse, but ineffective
  • Offenses against the defendant during incarceration
  • Introduction of evidence of mitigating circumstances denied at trial
Rehabilitation Narrative Features
  • Person has “changed”
  • Religious Rehabilitation
  • Specific religion given
  • Rehabilitation without religion
  • Third parties confirm that the defendant has changed
  • Good deeds in prison enumerated
  • Worse world without them (others say it would be)
  • Projection that the defendant will continue performing good deeds if allowed to live
  • Comparison of world if defendant was allowed to live versus killed
Remorse and Mercy Narrative Features
  • Admission of guilt or responsibility for the crime
  • Expression of remorse
  • Apology or expression of sympathy for the victim and victim’s loved ones
  • Plea for mercy by loved ones
  • Theoretical challenge to retributive theory of justice
  • Legal theory of the role of clemency included
  • Challenge to the death penalty in general (as inhumane, immoral, unconstitutional, etc.)
  • Emphasizes that the governor has control over the life of an individual
Innocence Narrative Features
  • Explanation of legal role of clemency as a check on judicial mistakes
  • Witnesses Speak
  • Problem with trial
  • Jurors acknowledge problem in trial
  • New evidence of innocence has arisen
  • Problem after Trial
  • No recourse beyond clemency
  • What problems occurred and why are explained
  • No reason why the defendant is innocent provided in video
Procedural Irregularities Narrative Features
  • Explanation of how mistake impacted trial
  • Emphasis on Clemency as a Final Option
  • Specific examples of trial irregularities given
  • Police Impropriety
  • Specific reasons why defendant is innocent
  • Jury Discrimination
  • Discrimination in jury selection
  • Prosecutorial abuse
  • Evidence tampering
Sentencing Inequity Narrative Features
  • Sentence of accomplice provided
  • Accomplice was more culpable than defendant
  • Life without parole was unavailable option at time of sentencing
  • Similar case(s) with lighter sentence provided
  • Jurors claim they would have sentenced differently
  • Compare sentence to an accomplice in the crime
  • Compare sentence to others with similar crimes
General Storytelling Techniques
  • Use of Narrator-identified or unidentified
  • Use of titlecards (text on screen)
  • Use of interviews
  • Defendant appears
  • Defendant appears confined by wire or glass
  • Defendant speaks but does not appear
  • Defendant’s absence is explained
  • Family Members speak
  • Expert Witnesses speak
  • Teachers speak
  • Social Workers/Advocates speak
  • Ministers/Spiritual Advisors speak
  • Fellow Inmates speak
  • Pen Pals speak
  • Friends speak
  • Prison officials/employees speak
  • Non-acquaintances speak (people the
  • defendant has not really interacted with)
  • Victim’s loved ones speak
  • Interviewer heard questioning people
  • Ending with call to action or other advocacy goals for audience
Visual Elements
  • Images of death chamber or house
  • Images of prison
  • Images of the crime scene and other pertinent locations
  • Images/clips of evidence
  • Images/clips associated with mitigating circumstances
  • Images of defendant before the crime
  • Images of defendant during trial
  • Images of defendant in prison
  • Images of defendant’s family
  • Images of the victim
  • Images of pertinent documents
  • News and archival footage
Audio or Sound Elements
  • Narration
  • No one speaks on behalf of defendant
  • A few people speak on behalf of defendant (no more than 6)
  • Many people speak on behalf of the defendant (more than 6)
  • Background music
  • Synchronous sound
  • Sound effects
Expressions of Emotions
  • 1 or more persons (other than defendant) cries
  • Defendant cries
  • Children speak on behalf of defendant
  • People beg for clemency
  • Impromptu interviews
  • People speak from pre-written segments
  • Portrayal of the death penalty process

Clemency Video Backstory


Production responsibilities of lawyers
  • Scriptwriter
  • Interviewer
  • Narrator
  • Producer
  • Cinematographer
  • Editor
Length of production time

Approximate cost of production

Distribution targets
  • Governor
  • Pardoning authority
  • Lawmakers and Policymakers
  • General public
Media deployed
  • Internet
  • Broadcast media
  • Private screenings
  • Public screenings
  • Disk duplication and distribution
Approximate cost of distribution

Response or action requested
  • Petition or letter writing
  • Donations
  • Marches or rallies
Impact
  • Defendant’s case
  • Defendant
  • Victim or victim’s survivors
  • Defendant’s family and friends
Outcome of case
  • Date of execution
  • Date of commutation
  • Current status