If you were under the age of 26 at the date of the offense giving rise to a criminal conviction, you may be eligible for a Franklin Hearing that would allow you to introduce mitigating factors of youthfulness, which can in turn lead to lighter sentencing and increased Parole Board hearings. In this article, California Criminal Appeals attorneys of Barhoma Law, P.C. explains:
- What is a Franklin Petition is and What it Does;
- Who is Eligible for a Franklin Petition;
- How to Successfully Petition the Court for a Franklin Petition;
- How Franklin Hearings Can Help Strike Portions of your Sentence (SB; and
- How an Experienced Appellate Attorney Can Help
Courts have long wrestled with how to confront crimes committed by youthful offenders. However, it was not until 2005 that the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to execute a person for a crime they committed while they were a child. Since then, both California and federal courts have developed a growing body of law dealing with the treatment of youthful offenders.
Once the death penalty was off the table, courts began to consider whether individuals should be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWLOP) for juvenile offenses. Again, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held that mandatory sentencing schemes imposing LWOP sentences unconstitutional as applied to individuals who committed crimes as minors. The concern here is that a mandatory sentence fails to give effect to any youthful mitigating circumstances.
In recent years, California courts have been at the forefront of sentencing reform. For example, in People v. Caballero, 55 Cal.4th 262 (2012), the court found that certain determinate sentences are the equivalent of an LWOP sentence. This acknowledges the illusory distinction between an LWOP sentence and a sentence of 50 or 100 years.
In each of these cases, the court has held that excessive sentences can violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, particularly as they apply to juvenile offenders. Courts now recognize that children—even those who are found to have committed heinous crimes—require special consideration.
In the case People v. Tyris Lamar Franklin, 63 Cal. 4th 261 (2016), the California Supreme Court first allowed for what has come to be known as a Franklin hearing. A Franklin hearing allows individuals who were sentenced to long determinate and indeterminate sentences to create a record of their youthful mitigating factors.
What Is a Franklin Hearing and What Does It Do?
When someone is found guilty and sentenced to a long determinate or indeterminate sentence, they will not receive a parole board hearing for up to 15 years or more. The result is that a person who is found guilty of committing a crime as a minor may need to serve 15, 20 or 25 years or more before having any opportunity for release. In this way, a sentence may run afoul of the constitutional mandate that juveniles are deserving of special consideration.
A Franklin hearing is a procedural mechanism by which the court allows individuals to create a record of the mitigating factors of youthfulness that the parole board must give “great weight” when making parole decisions. The Franklin court held that youthful offenders who did not have sufficient opportunity to make a record of any youth-related mitigating factors are entitled to have their case remanded back to the trial court. On remand, the court may allow the inmate to present documentary and testimonial evidence.
Who Is Eligible for a Franklin Petition?
Franklin hearings are available for anyone convicted of a crime alleged to have been committed before they reached the age of 26 and sentenced to a term of incarceration that will eventually make them eligible for parole. Additionally, the court must find that the youthful offender did not have the opportunity at their sentencing hearing to present evidence of youth-related mitigating factors. In most cases, this means that any sentence handed down before 2016, when Franklin was decided, is eligible for a Franklin hearing.
How to Successfully Petition the Court to Obtain a Franklin Hearing
To obtain a Franklin hearing, an inmate must first file a Franklin petition with the convicting court. In the petition, they must present a prima facie case that they 1.) are serving a qualifying sentence, and 2.) did not have a meaningful opportunity to present the court with evidence of their mitigating factors of youthfulness.
Next, the court will reopen the case and schedule a Franklin hearing. At this point, it is imperative to select the right type of expert. Depending on the nature of the offense, sentence, and applicable enhancements, retaining a specialized expert can mean a stronger record of mitigating evidence. While the amount of money a court allows for expert appointment vary, commonly courts allow inmates between $3,000 to $8,00 to retain an expert’s services. At Barhoma Law, we work with several world-class experts who are not only respected in their field but also have extensive hands-on experience handling Franklin hearings. We have also successfully petitioned California courts to appoint experts so our clients do not need to pay for these services out-of-pocket.
Once an expert is assigned to a case, the next step is the Franklin interview. This is where the expert will sit down with the inmate and learn more about their life. The answers provided by the inmate will form the basis of the expert’s findings. In some cases, an expert may also interview an inmate’s family members to get a complete picture of their history. At Barhoma Law, we facilitate the Franklin interview process in several ways. First, we work with CDCR to ensure that, whenever possible, the expert is allowed into the facility for an in-person interview. This is much more effective than a report generated through the review of documents only. We also prepare our clients for what to expect during the interview process.
Once the expert’s report is finalized, it will be placed in the inmate’s C-file, which is the file that the parole board will review when deciding whether an inmate is ready to be paroled. At Barhoma Law, we ensure that the expert’s report is properly lodged in a client’s file and persuasively argue in favor of parole at the next parole board review.
Franklin Hearings Can Lead to Other Forms of Relief
While a Franklin hearing helps paves the way to an earlier release, it also provides other benefits. For example, the Franklin hearing process is a good time to consider filing an SB 620 motion. Senate Bill 620 allows the court to strike a sentencing enhancement, which can significantly reduce a sentence. Franklin interviews often uncover information that was not available to the court at the time of sentencing. If the court is presented with a compelling report, it may strike a sentencing enhancement well before an inmate is up for parole.
Franklin hearings also open the door to other forms of relief, specifically 1170(d)(1) petitions and AB 2942 petitions. These are both petitions for a resentencing hearing; 1170(d)(1) petitions through the CDCR and AB 2942 petitions through the District Attorney’s office of the convicting county. In each of these petitions, in addition to the information presented in the expert’s report, an inmate should present compelling evidence that they have been rehabilitated.
The importance of compelling evidence of rehabilitation cannot be overstated. Before the CDCR or the District Attorney’s office gets on board with a resentencing petition, they will want to see that an inmate is ready to be reintegrated into everyday society. For example, the following are ways to help show the CDCR or the District Attorney’s office that an inmate is rehabilitated:
- Obtaining a GED or taking college course work;
- Maintaining a job while in prison;
- Presenting letters of support from those in the community, correctional officers, and fellow inmates;
- Maintaining a positive disciplinary history;
- Obtaining laudatory chronos;
- Taking self-help classes
- Volunteering; and
- Writing a letter of remorse.
However, merely presenting these items in the form of a list is often insufficient. These petitions require an experienced attorney who knows how to present an inmate’s past experiences and in-custody conduct such that it creates a compelling overall picture. At Barhoma Law, we’ve secured the release of multiple clients through Franklin hearings, AB 2942 petitions, 1170(d)(1) petitions and other forms of relief under state and federal law.
Contact a Renowned California Appeals Lawyer
If you or a loved one is serving a lengthy prison sentence based on a crime committed before 2016, the importance of a Franklin hearing cannot be overstated. Respected California post-conviction attorney Matthew Barhoma has first-hand experience successfully obtaining Franklin hearings on behalf of his clients. Barhoma Law has used Franklin hearings, in conjunction with other recent California criminal justice reform initiatives, to secure the early release of multiple clients. To learn more about your post-conviction and appellate options, contact Barhoma Law to schedule a free consultation at 213-800-7664.