FAMM and NACDL Present: The Vanishing Trial – FAMM

FAMM and NACDL Present: The Vanishing Trial

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.

Running Time: 38 minutes

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.


Special Jury Remi Award: WorldFest Houston

Film/Video-Social Issues/Responsibility for Film / Video / Television

See What People Are Saying

“‘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

“Finally a film that dismantles the myth that everyone accused of a crime gets their day in court. The Vanishing Trial lays bare the lie. When more than 90% of people accused of crimes ‘volunteer’ to plead guilty rather than exercise their Constitutional right to a trial—it’s not because they’re guilty. It’s because our system is so rigged that most don’t meaningfully have any other choice. The Vanishing Trial is a sobering wake-up call to the structural failures of a system that provides very little justice. I hope America is listening.”

~Shana-Tara O’Toole, Founder + President, Due Process Institute


“This gut-wrenching documentary may be the single most important contribution to criminal justice reform ever created. In just 40 short minutes, it lays bare the fundamental rot at the heart of America’s criminal justice system and drives home the appalling human toll of America’s addiction to mass incarceration.”

~Clark Neily, Vice President for Criminal Justice, Cato Institute

“This film makes devastatingly clear that prosecutors are destroying countless lives in their quest to extract guilty pleas at any cost. This isn’t about justice or public safety. It’s about grinding people through as quickly as possible so prosecutors don’t have to go through trials. In a world with mandatory minimums, this gives prosecutors the ultimate power to decide people’s fates, and this film shows that power is often used to destroy people and their families. Judges become ministerial messengers — just delivering the sentences that the prosecutors selected with their charges. It’s an embarrassment to our country and the Constitution that this happens every day in America. The first step to ending it is to abolish mandatory minimums and the second is to create meaningful oversight over prosecutors to stop them from penalizing people who just want the rights the Constitution gives them.”

~Rachel E. Barkow, Faculty Director, Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, NYU School of Law

“The Vanishing Trial is an important and fearless film that implores its viewers to remember our humanity within the framework of the criminal justice system….The Vanishing Trial will be a source of education and motivation against a bloated prison system for generations to come. These stories are excruciating and disheartening to watch but a lifeline for those going through it and a catalyst for change.”

~Rudy Valdez, Academy award-winning director

“Under the current system of unfettered prosecutorial power, there is no check on the vindictive egos of those who wish to punish people for insisting upon their constitutional right to trial. This is a true indictment of this country’s ailing criminal justice system. The Vanishing Trial shines a very necessary and bright light on heartbreaking stories of real people whose lives were devastated by the trial penalty and explores how we can create impactful change.”

~Brittney Barnett, Attorney and Co-Founder of Buried Alive