The Vanishing Trial
The Vanishing Trial
The Vanishing Trial
The Vanishing Trial
The Vanishing Trial

The Vanishing Trial

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    • Directed by: Wynette Yao
    • Released: 2020 (educational)
    • Year of Production: 2020
Running Time: 38 min
Language: English
Subtitle Options: English Closed Captions
Subjects: Criminal Justice, American Studies

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.


“An important and fearless film” – Rudy Valdez, Academy Award Winner

“The Vanishing Trial shines a very necessary and bright light.” – Brittany K. Barnett, Buried Alive Project

“A sobering wakeup call” – Shana-Tara O'Toole, 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


About the filmmaker 

Wynette Yao is an award-winning filmmaker who has produced, directed and written films on subjects as wide-ranging as Egypt, tornadoes, bees and bog mummies. She relishes image-making and storytelling that brings alive the human experience behind history, science, and modern life.
In 2018, Yao joined FAMM Foundation, a non-profit that advocates for criminal justice reform. She has been grateful to make short videos, spots and long-form documentaries aimed at fighting for a more fair and effective justice system, including the award-winning “Half of Us,” “Boots on the Ground,” and “Veda Ajamu:  Warrior for Justice.”

Yao’s previous work includes “Oceans at the Tipping Point” (Winner of the Innovation Award at the Blue Ocean Film Festival) for Conservation International, “Who Betrayed Anne Frank?” (Winner of the Gold Remi Award, Worldfest Houston Film Festival) for the Discovery Channel, and “The Mystery of the Mummy Murders” (Winner of a Telly Award) for the National Geographic Channel. 

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