by Anthony W. Accurso
JusticeText is new software designed specifically for defense attorneys and public defenders who are being overwhelmed by the amount of audio and video evidence they have to review when defending clients.
Devshi Mehrotra was nearing the end of her studies in computer science at the University of Chicago when she read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
“As a technologist, I knew I didn’t have the ability, the resources, the connections to be able to legislate bad and unjust policies away,” said Mehrotra. “And so I got started thinking: ‘Is there anything that I could potentially build that furthers my own values and furthers the work of public defenders?’”
Mehrotra and her classmate Leslie Jones-Dove interviewed attorneys in Chicago’s Cook County public defender’s office. They learned the public defenders were overwhelmed by the amount of audio and video evidence they had to review and the lack of infrastructure in place to help them review it efficiently.
The pair responded by creating JusticeText, an AI-powered tool that has been trained on evidence data to convert speech to text, ultimately producing a time-indexed, searchable transcript of the evidence. The software also allows users reviewing the transcript to click on a portion of text to begin playback of the evidence at that exact location, enabling attorneys to jump to points of interest otherwise hidden in hours of dashcam and bodycam files.
“It’s really a workflow tool for making sure that public defenders are able to make sense of and extract useful insights from audio and video as quickly as they can,” said Mehrotra.
Word about this new tool is getting around since its debut last year. It’s being tested in Minnesota and Colorado, and pilot programs are in place in New York City and the District of Columbia.
One public defender in Georgia uses the software to print transcripts she can leave with clients she meets with in jail, enabling them to review the evidence in her absence and saving valuable time in her face-to-face meetings.
Mehrotra and Jones-Dove founded a company, also called JusticeText, to market the platform and support users while getting it into the hands of as many public defenders as possible. It will soon be actively marketed more broadly to defense attorneys in general through the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Mehrotra recently announced a “big milestone” for the company: it signed a six-figure contract with the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission to roll-out the software to 125 public defenders for a one-year period.
“We recognize that this is a tool that is broadly applicable and we are beginning to connect with folks in the private criminal defense community more and more now,” said Mehrotra. “The goal for us is to really just continue putting JusticeText in the hands of more people who could utilize it.”
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