National Civil Rights Museum and FAMM Host Journey to Justice Virtual Screening and Panel on Trial Penalty

Panelists include attorney, judge and returning citizen who advocate for sentencing reform

Memphis, Tennessee, UNITED STATES

Memphis, TN, March 10, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The National Civil Rights Museum and FAMM are hosting a virtual film screening and panel discussion of “The Vanishing Trial,” to highlight wrongful conviction and sentencing around the “trial penalty.” The 90-minute event on March 16 highlights a documentary of four cases involving excessive penalities followed by a panel with FAMM president, a Virginia prosecutor, a Tennessee judge and a returning citizen who recently won clemency.

“The Vanishing Trial” focuses on four individuals who were forced to make that choice between pleading guilty or going to trial. Each was threatened with a “trial penalty,” the substantially longer prison sentence a person receives if they exercise their constitutional right to trial instead of pleading guilty. Throughout the film, there are perspectives of national experts, including former federal judges and prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional law experts and criminal justice reform advocates.  The documentary reveals how the trial penalty has led to the disappearance of the fundamental individual right and the explosion in America’s prison population.

“One of the most important rights we have as Americans – the right to a trial – is disappearing before our eyes,” said Kevin Ring, president of FAMM. “We want to believe that people are punished based on the severity of their crime and the harm they caused. That’s no longer true. Today the harshest sentences are imposed on those who simply exercise their right to go to trial.”  Ring is among the panelists discussing the film after the screening.

“It’s important to bring awareness to the issue of the trial penalty, as many are unaware that it exists,” said Veda Ajamu, the museum’s Director of Community Engagement and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives.  “The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could not ring truer, ‘It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.’  We must work towards a 'just' criminal legal system for everyone,” she said.

Ajamu will moderate the panel.  The panelists include:

  • Stephanie N. Morales of Portsmouth, VA is an attorney who fights for those who can’t fight for themselves by working to address the mental health crisis in the criminal justice system and to disrupt implicit bias in prosecution. She also formed the Ctrl + Alt + Del Program to help restore felon rights and reduce recidivism and the Future Leaders Initiative that hosts youth as junior attorneys.
  • Kevin Ring is president of criminal justce reform advocacy group FAMM.  Prior to joining FAMM in 2008, Kevin Ring was a lobbyist in Washington, DC. He was twice named one of K Streets’s Top Rainmakers by The Hill. Ring was indicted in September 2008 on public corruption charges as part of the Jack Abramoff lobbyist scandal. After two trials and appeals, Ring ultimately served 20 months in federal prison. In 2017 he became president of FAMM and Ring has testified before Congress and state legislatures across the country regarding sentencing and prison reform.
  • Chris Young is an entrepreneur who is passionate about bridging the gap between the streets and innovative technology. He was arrested at 22 and ultimately sentenced to mandatory life without parole under draconian federal drug laws. After serving over a decade in prison, he is dedicating his time to helping multi-marginalized youth embrace their imaginations to create a better future.
  • Judge Kevin Sharp is the Managing Partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Nashville office, which opened in the spring of 2017. He joined Sanford Heisler Sharp after serving as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee from May 2011 through April 2017, serving from 2014 to 2017 as the Court’s Chief Judge.  Sharp has retired from the bench, citing his deep ethical discomfort with sentencing young men “barely on the totem pole” of drug conspiracies to die in prison.

The 38-minute documentary 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.

The virtual screening and discussion is a free event, however registration is required. For information and to register, visit the museum’s website. 


About the National Civil Rights Museum

The NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM, located at the historic Lorraine Motel where civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, gives a comprehensive overview of the American Civil Rights Movement from slavery to the present. Since the Museum opened in 1991, millions of visitors from around the world have come, including more than 90,000 students annually. The Museum is steadfast in its mission to chronicle the American civil rights movement and tell the story of the ongoing struggle for human rights.  It educates and serves as a catalyst to inspire action to create positive social change.  A Smithsonian Affiliate and an internationally acclaimed cultural institution, the Museum is recognized as a 2019 National Medal Award recipient by the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS), the top national honor for museums and libraries.  It is a TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Top 5% U.S. Museum, USA Today's Top 10 Best American Iconic Attractions; Top 10 Best Historical Spots in the U.S. by TLC's Family Travel; Must See by the Age of 15 by Budget Travel and Kids; Top 10 American Treasures by USA Today; and Best Memphis Attraction by The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Business Journal.


FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safeguard taxpayer dollars and keep our communities safe. Founded in 1991, FAMM is helping transform America’s criminal justice system by uniting the voices of impacted families and individuals and elevating the issues all across the country.


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