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79 – Is a Mitigation Specialist the Key to Fair Punishment?

79 – Is a Mitigation Specialist the Key to Fair Punishment?
Crime affects all of our lives—anyone can be accused, know someone accused, or serve on a jury. Mitigation expert and author Victoria Rusk gets to the “whys” behind a crime, helping jurors, DAs, and attorneys to work for fair and appropriate punishments, in hopes of reducing the American mass incarceration crisis. Her recent book The Handbook of Mitigation has quickly become canon within the legal mitigation sphere for anyone interested in sentencing justice. How did a former broadcast journalist from Lubbock, Texas, become a leading professional advocate for fair sentencing? Find out for yourself on Episode 80 of Open Mike.

Show Notes

[00:27] Victoria’s background and bio.

[01:31] Welcome to Victoria Rusk!

[01:49] You’re a mitigation specialist — can you tell us what a mitigation specialist is?

[03:06] That’s fascinating! You’re usually brought in after the conviction?

[03:32] So, it’s not just death row, it’s anyone facing a serious criminal trial, and you are brought in to humanize the defendant so lawyers can argue the best they can for them?

[04:55] As I mentioned in my intro, and I don’t think many people know this, Michigan has a man named Marvin Gabrion on death row. What do you do for someone like Mr. Gabrion before trial? How do you help someone facing such serious consequences?

[07:27] The key in humanizing someone is to figure out how they love, and how they express and show love.

[07:57] You’re dealing with some people who are hurting and killing families… how do you show their capability of love to a judge or jury? What are some examples?

[09:53] Creating an atmosphere of trust and compassion with a client’s family or other loved ones will make them more inclined to freely offer up humanizing information to a jury.

[12:12] We’ve talked a lot about how little resources there are for indigent defendants and you’re spending hundreds, if not thousands, of hours on an individual case. Who’s paying your bills?

[13:48] The criminal justice system is broken —attorneys have hundreds and hundreds of cases… the COVID-19 pandemic has the ability to turn the criminal justice system inside out in terms of both humanizing those working within the system and those accused of a crime.

[14:08] I didn’t know that anyone with a capital case was entitled to services like yours. What about in a state like Michigan that doesn’t have the death penalty unless you’re on federal land? Is there such a thing as a mitigation specialist if someone is facing life in prison without parole?

[16:09] Post-conviction in mitigation is very different because there are additional politics in the process to consider and you have to really evaluate what’s going to be convincing or moving.

[17:02] If you’re arguing that someone is not guilty, you may not want to be arguing mitigation… are you usually arguing mitigation when someone is likely guilty or definitely guilty?

[19:41] So, it’s almost like any case… drunk driving, robbery… you can help humanize the dependent and look at the bigger picture to understand why they’re in the situation they are. You’re kind of like a social worker.

[21:00] We’re talked about issues with mass incarceration and prison overcrowding in this country… how can mitigation specialization help that?

[22:41] In general, besides buying your book, The Handbook for Mitigation, which every attorney in the country should get… what are your recommendations for someone who can’t afford to hire you?

[23:40] There two are trainings Victoria recommends: Dr. Donna Beegle’s poverty-informed training, and Undoing Racism: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

[26:06] Thank you to Victoria Rusk for being on the show and thanks for watching Open Mike Podcast!

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