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FAMM and NACDL Present the Movie: The Vanishing Trial

[ – 6/6/20]

Imagine you’re charged with a crime. Now you must choose between pleading guilty and receiving a shorter sentence–or going to trial and risking decades behind bars.

“The Vanishing Trial” focuses on four individuals who were forced to make that excruciating choice. Each was threatened with a “trial penalty,” the term used to describe the substantially longer prison sentence a person receives if they exercise their constitutional right to trial instead of pleading guilty. We see how the trial penalty has led to the shocking disappearance of one of the most fundamental individual rights and the explosion in America’s prison population.

Throughout the film, we hear the perspectives of national experts, including former federal judges and prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional law experts, and criminal justice reform advocates.

“The Vanishing Trial” was produced by FAMM producer/director Wynette Yao and cinematographer/editor Travis Edwards. Yao is an Emmy-nominated producer/director who has worked for National Geographic, Discovery, and other major networks. Edwards is an award-winning cinematographer/editor who has worked on a wide range of documentaries and features.

“‘The Vanishing Trial’ exposes the dirty little secret of the criminal justice system that prosecutors don’t want you to know about: the trial penalty. As a former prosecutor, I know that the trial penalty real and that it poses a grave threat to our constitutional right to trial. ‘The Vanishing Trial’ should educate – and frighten – Americans, and spark a movement to reclaim one of our most fundamental rights.” ~Former United States Attorney Brett Tolman

Want to see the film?

FAMM and NACDL will host a number of digital screenings throughout 2020.

Read more on this page


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Good to see a spotlight on this issue.

I was convicted in federal court and was given a similar kind of choice: a possible 17 years if I went to trial and lost, or a plea deal for 4 years and change (which the prosecutor still tried to renege on and ask for more time). Something needs to change; with “choices” like this (some 90+% of defendants take the deal, as we all know the deck is stacked against us), justice is an utter joke in this country.

I too was put in a similar position. They claimed I’d have 50 to life if I didnt plead and ended up doing 7 years confinement after pleading. The worst thing about it is pleading to things you know you didnt do.

On a Federal level its 97.5%, State is about 95% plea bargains. This was addressed by the late SC Justice Scalia in Missouri v Frye and Lafler v Cooper. His dissent makes for an interesting read. And obviously, taking a deal most of us know all too well from experience.

Where do you sign up for a screening. I dont see a link anywhere.

it’s not a dirty little secret, here’s not a news flash, im positive to say more than 85% of people’s convictions are based on that *deal* heres my little dirty secret, the district attorneys should NOT put their personal choices of NOT pursuing charges against all the politicians. all these cops, all them monkeys in a suit, when they commit a crime its not a crime, ohhhh, now when a civilian commits a crime, its a whole new ball game, guilty even before its over *believe it*

I am going to take a VERY strong contrary view on this entire topic…As the current law stands, plea bargaining is the greatest thing that every happened to most of us. It is entirely possible that Tired of This was completely innocent of the charges he faced…if this was so, then his was truly a draconian choice… But being honest, Tired’s situation, if innocent, is fairly rare among us…most of us have, maybe to varying degrees, but we have guilt nonetheless. Now I’ve long maintained that CP should not be a crime at all, except for production and active distribution.… Read more »

Oops…major error above, that should have been 288(a) not 288a…Sorry, I do get them confused.

(As if all of this section of the Penal Code isn’t a rats nest of confusion and over reach).

Best Wishes, James I

You make some good points. I will look forward to seeing how they balance this out in the movie.

@James Good points. And I also agree with you on the decriminalization of cp unless someone’s making it or distributing it. That’s the way the law is in many countries. America is the only country that sends first time offenders to prison for having any forensic trace of cp on their computer. That’s what happened to me due to a mandatory minimum cp possession law in my state. But I have to say that plea bargaining doesn’t make a big difference when it comes to sentencing in mandatory min cp cases because most trial judges believe the mandatory sentence (especially… Read more »

James, I don’t mean to pry, but the state was threatening you with 16 years for oral? Thats unless you we’re doing some real pedophilia shit. What are we talking about toddlers here? Well, I won’t judge but I can understand your taking a plea if you did something like that because the judge would have smoked you if you took it to trial.

No Jerrett, the state was threatening me with 16 years for the lesser L&L…it is easy to get to 16 years…I sometimes think I was in love, (I cringe even writing this), but this would have been insane…nah, I wasn’t insane…it was a bad relationship that I was warned against…but I was too prideful, too insane, (too curious?)…to avoid. Life happens, to the best of us and the worst of us…I am still not sure where I fit in there. I am also not certain why I try to segregate out CP offenses….I suppose I do this because I often… Read more »

I was given a choice of time served or a risk 15-45 years over a one night stand with someone who’d portrayed themselves as older. I took time served as my lawyer advised me that if I took it to trial they would want to hang me for not being white. 🤷‍♂️ After sentencing I found out my lawyer neglected to inform me that I qualified for the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act because I’d requested to fire him to retain another lawyer. Turns out my lawyer, the judge, and the prosecutor were good friends. So the judge sent my letter… Read more »

@ NY won’t let go: Love ya dude but aren’t you still being harassed?

I agree completely with all of the comments regarding the viewing of underage porn. That is also my spouse’s offense and we did not take it to trial for the same reasons: to save our kids from the embarrassment of a trial. The prosecutor in our case would not offer a plea deal. Thankfully, though, the judge gave my spouse probation, which I thank God for every day. I was in disbelief that someone could land on a sex offender registry when he had never touched or offered to touch anyone. I, too, think that this needs to be decriminalized.… Read more »

I was in the same boat in 1995… I was 18 and dna evidence taken from me should have cleared me, but after 3 days of deliberation, a grand jury still indicted me; even though my dna did not match what was found at the supposed crime scene… option given to me was 5 years deferred adjudication probation ( where I was falsley promised that my record would be wiped clean if I a completed my probation) VS… going to trial and potentially face up to 99 years behind bars… 5 years ago, I saw a notice posted on line… Read more »

A couple of thoughts… First, the original idea of plea bargaining was to plead guilty to a lesser charge subject to a lesser penalty and still required the judge to review and determine the sufficiency of evidence. Not so nowadays. Because judges need only establish a factual basis, prosecutors – not ostensibly impartial judges – determine the sufficiency of evidence and defendants are pushed to enter pleas to the same charges, often for the statutory maximum. Judges very seldom (if ever) deviate from the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendations. Second, I’ve read many trial transcripts where a prosecutor stated something like “I… Read more »

This vanishing trial is like a vanishing point but is it really a vanishing point or a seedy side of life. Yes getting wrapped up in all this confusion can be a breaking point to many. Going to court for some graphic porn found on a computer or a potty mouth story that authorities would dab as porn or some other form of behavior is a bit uncanny. Who is badgering with something as I want you to come down here and talk dirty to me. badgered Badgering isn’t good in any form to induce one un all this flaky… Read more »

Wait who in there right mind believes PC cases should not be a crime what kind of sick pedophile logic is that are you guys insane. Now i see why California politicians place all CP case in tier 3 lifetime registration because you have to be a really twisted minded person to even take the time searching for sick shiit like that. In my opinion anyone involved CP should have to register for the rest of there life no questions asked. I also have mix feelings about plea deal’s the DA literally tells you that if you take this case… Read more »

@Aero Why are you on this forum? You’re a sex offender yourself and most sex offenses involve children. So to say non-contact cp sex offenders are pedophiles and they should have lifetime registration, you’re kidding around right? I hope you’re just trolling. Even l don’t stoop that low. I just tell people on this forum to take responsibility for their actions and stop with the bad analogies. But to say offenders who never touched a child should somehow be punished more and stay on registry longer? Geeeesh. You’re a sex offender yourself, Mr. Aero

The only people who should be listed on Registries are people who think other people should be. Those are literally the only people who I would have no problem with big government “warning” everyone about. Those people are dangerous to other free people. Their ideas are dangerous. Their existence is dangerous. I’ve never seen CP but I doubt that it is intrinsically more offensive than piles and piles of things. The only problem I can even see with CP is IF/WHEN children are actually harmed by it. I’m sure in many (most??) cases, they are harmed. But they are certainly… Read more »

I know the truth hurts and it’s true most sex offenses do involve children but most dont so you cant place everybody in 1 category even law enforcement and the Department of Justice knows that why do you think California created a new tier law that goes into effect next year. So don’t be ignorant the new changes to the registry are only here to separate pedophiles from sexoffenders and at the end of the day any coward who hurts a innocent child doesn’t deserve to live they don’t deserve to be free they don’t deserve a second chance but… Read more »

I have to disagree on your CP should be a contact crime. Should it be illegal? Of course, but to say said individual personally touched said victim in false. Some of those pictures are from the 70s, so are we saying someone born in 1991 sexually abused someone who was a kid in the 1970s? Not only that, one can look on some websites on the internet and see actual beheadings ISIS committed or the Us blowing away terrorist with heavy weapons, does that mean I comitted a murder? If a person can watch a beheading legally and not be… Read more »


All CP charges excluding production are non-contact offenses. That’s the truth. Can’t get around that. A spade is a spade.

To label every CP offender as a pedophile is incorrect because you don’t have to be one to view illegal images. Every individual is different and unique in terms of motivation. And I’m sure you agree that blanket statements are a disservice to everyone including yourself.

First of all, you can’t always trust a tier system because the ones that create them are always moving the goal post and adding more people. And I definitely wouldn’t trust the DOJ and FBI who have a history of putting child pornography online to try and catch people who look at it. So if we go with your line of thinking, shouldn’t these fbi agents be locked up and placed in tier 3 for distributing child pornography. Or do you want to keep insisting we just have harsh penalties for people who look at the stuff online because it… Read more »

@USA the 2nd who said “You still haven’t told us what your sex offense was, Mr. Aero.” Are you implying someone must answer to your questions? It’s none of your business period.

@LPH Hello Aero’s big brother. Mr. Aero is quite capable of defending himself. This is a public forum. If you’re a sex offender who is willing to come on this forum and call sex offenders that view cp “pedophiles” that should be locked up, well of course we all want to know what sex offense did you do that makes you so high and mighty? That’s a natural common sense question anyone would ask. If one is willing to come on a public forum and make provocative statements, they just MADE IT OUR BUSINESS to ask them uncomfortable questions.

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