Queens Defenders is partnering with JusticeText, an audiovisual evidence management software, to expedite the review of body camera footage, interrogation videos, jail calls, and other crucial discovery.

JusticeText was co-founded by Devshi Mehrotra and Leslie Jones-Dove while they were computer science students at the University of Chicago. They are on a mission to address the access-to-justice gap within indigent defense by building technology specifically tailored to the needs of public defenders and their clients.

Recent New York discovery reform laws require that the District Attorney turn over more material and allow criminal defense attorneys 15 days from arraignment to “discover, inspect, copy, photograph and test” what they receive. Since then, Queens Defenders has been receiving countless hours of footage from NYPD officers’ body cameras and of phone calls from incarcerated clients.

Christopher Whitehair, Supervising Attorney at Queens Defenders, states “Many of the witnesses will be on the police officers’ body cam footage. It is therefore imperative for us to be able to efficiently review the videos so we can identify such individuals. JusticeText will help us quickly identify and pursue lines of investigation.”

Nick Justiz, Staff Attorney at Queens Defenders, was one of ten attorneys in our office that piloted the software. He used JusticeText to assist him with two recent cases, both involving extensive body camera footage. “I uploaded all the videos to JusticeText before watching them because, honestly, it’s just easier to watch them through the JusticeText platform,” Nick says. “I can make a note of anything important right there. The transcript is already roughly enough laid out for you so that you know what’s important.”

JusticeText’s automated transcript is generated by a machine learning model and can accept custom vocabulary, including slang, witness names, and neighborhood names. The output is easily exportable to a separate document for sharing purposes.

The platform also makes it easy for attorneys to clip out relevant parts of the video or audio file by highlighting the transcribed speech. The snippets of discovery can then be easily shared with collaborators or used for impeachment purposes in trial. Nick says, “It was actually pretty convenient to be able to clip out just the parts of the Spanish that I needed translated — I could email them very quickly to a translator and get it back.”

JusticeText offers public defenders the ability to consolidate their workflow and helps expedite the review of high volumes of discovery. “I have all six videos right there and in one folder. It’s so easy to go back and forth to reference everything and just keep it in front of me, as opposed to the old process. It’s a huge cut down of those unnecessary logistical barriers to preparing your case,” Nick says.

Michelle Minkin, Staff Attorney at Queens Defenders, adds “I really like that I can search the transcript for keywords. I’ve found it to be very helpful in going through Body Cam videos and pulling out important statements or references to other discovery I know I should be looking for. I can highlight and flag these references so I know exactly where to refer to when I’m writing a motion.”

Following a successful pilot period, Queens Defenders rolled out software access to the entire staff. The office is dedicated to leveraging the latest technology to advance its mission of providing quality indigent defense across Queens.