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Siskiyou County Public Defender partners with JusticeText to better leverage body camera footage in defense of their clients

Siskiyou court

Posted March 6, 2023

JusticeText is thrilled to announce a new partnership with the Siskiyou County Public Defender’s Office. Starting December 2022, six attorneys in the Northern California office have access to JusticeText to better leverage the high volume of audiovisual evidence in their caseload.

An evolving justice system

The criminal justice system - in California and across the nation - has evolved considerably over the last few decades. Public defenders are increasingly embracing and investing in holistic defense which, as Siskiyou County Public Defender Lael Kayfetz describes it, is “a shift to what we’ve always believed in - to meet clients where they are, figure out what brought them into the system and how public defenders can use do whatever they can to help them get out.”

In addition, as calls for accountability in policing have grown louder, the justice system has also embraced new tools like body cameras. While body cameras can be powerful tools for transparency, this shift has also created challenges for an already overstretched public defense system. 

Public defenders, like those in the Siskiyou County Public Defender's Office, are expected to shoulder much of the burden of reviewing the many hours of footage these cameras create in order to provide effective counsel. This meticulous and tedious work can create detract from the holistic, human-centered work public defenders know they need to provide.

“We are drowning. We literally need two more attorney positions to effectively handle our caseload. And everyone here is committed to watching the body camera footage and we're doing it, you know, as best we can.”

Technology to quickly review video evidence

The Siskiyou County Public Defender’s Office brought on JusticeText to help alleviate this gap and tackle the growing body of video evidence. Beyond body cameras, the Siskiyou team gets an influx of dashboard cameras, interrogation videos, and other audio and video evidence. By uploading all of this video evidence to JusticeText, the team is able to quickly make sense of a high volume of evidence, identify key moments, and bring out the most critical pieces to mount a strong defense.

“It is so helpful for us for trials to be able to clip things and have the ability to use the camera footage in a more facile way.”

Finding important details hidden in video evidence can be critical for the outcomes of the case. Lael reflected on a case where the police report said the identification of the suspect happened in the field. But on closer investigation, the body camera footage revealed the person saying “no, that’s not him.” 

She shares, "The police report may lack nuance because [the officers] are just trying to get the information down that feels important in that moment. And then after the fact we learn a lot of things, and the body cameras help to put it all in context."

Different starting points

The challenge is particularly acute when public defense is already inadequately resourced. Across California, where local prosecution and indigent defense is primarily funded by counties rather than the state, counties invest twice as much in district attorney offices as they do in public defender officers - a $1 billion difference in aggregate.

“I wish that [the budgetary system] would prioritize indigent defense as much as they prioritize other things because if we had the resources there would be less of a partial system.”

Recently, the state of California started to correct this imbalance and invest in indigent defense. The Indigent Defense Grant Program, piloted in 2020 and launched in 2021, invested $50M per year through FY23-24 to increase the capacity of local public defense agencies. However, as of early 2023 California faced a significant budget deficit and the governor’s budget proposed cutting the final year of support for the Indigent Defense Grant Program.

For these reasons, JusticeText was built for and with public defenders from the beginning. JusticeText team is inspired by Lael and her team’s vision for public defense in Siskiyou County and is thrilled to help add capacity to her team so that their time can instead be used for continued zealous advocacy.

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"We’re so grateful you guys created this tool. When we first saw it we said ‘Oh my God, this seems like it’s ready made for us.’ And then we realized it was."

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Lael Kayfetz

Siskiyou County Public Defender

Is JusticeText Right For You?

If you are an attorney looking to make sense of high volumes of audiovisual discovery, there are many ways in which you can utilize JusticeText to streamline your pre-trial preparation process. Reach out today to learn about how you can get started with JusticeText.