Youth offenders convicted and given a lengthy prison term by a sentencing court for crimes committed when they were age 26 or under are entitled to have a “Franklin Hearing,” The California Supreme Court made this ruling in 2016.
“By operation of law, Franklin’s sentence is not functionally equivalent to LWOP…” (life without the possibility of parole) the court ruled in People v. Franklin.
The purpose of a Franklin Hearing is to present evidence of mitigating factors into the offender’s record that was not introduced to the trial court at the time of sentencing. The updated record can then be evaluated at a future parole hearing.
In California, when a youth offender is given an indeterminate sentence, such as 50 years or longer to life, they are not eligible for their first parole hearing until they have served anywhere from 20 to 25 years of continuous time in custody. In some circumstances, a parole hearing is not likely to take place in the prisoner’s lifetime.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Graham v. Florida (2010) that lengthy sentences given to youth offenders violate the 8th Amendment. The reasoning held the length of time was cruel and unusual punishment without an evaluation of a person’s upbringing, juvenile record, maturity, capacity to learn and understand, and the facts of the case.
According to the Franklin decision, a sentence handed to a youth offender that is equivalent to LWOP may run contrary to the rulings in Miller and Graham.
Those who meet the criteria — but were convicted after the Franklin decision or have already appeared before the parole board — may file a petition for writ of habeas corpus to their sentencing court to request a Franklin Hearing. When such a hearing is granted, it is recommended that a petitioner ask the judge to appoint an investigator to interview family members, an expert in forensic psychology and perhaps a social worker to write a mitigation report. In this way, the new information is preserved as evidence for future and subsequent parole hearings.
Citing Miller, the California Supreme Court concluded in People v. Franklin that “imposition of a state’s most severe penalties on juvenile offenders cannot proceed as though they were not children.” The ruling also reads, in part, that a hearing “must give great weight to youth-related mitigating factors…”
The hearing stems from the conviction of Tyris Lamar Franklin, who was 16 years old when he killed another teenager with a firearm. At trial, a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. By law, the judge was obligated to impose two 25-year-to-life sentences; first for the murder, the second for the personal use of a firearm. The aggregate of his sentence was 50 years, with the possibility of parole.