Franklin Hearings emerged from the case of Tyris Lamar Franklin, who was convicted of first-degree murder at the age of 16 and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. Franklin’s case questioned whether such extended sentences for juvenile offenders breached the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which safeguards against cruel and unusual punishment.
In People v. Tyris Lamar Franklin (2016) 63 Cal. 4th 261, the California Supreme Court ruled that the sentencing court had not considered Franklin’s age, immaturity, and other youth-related mitigating factors. Consequently, Franklin was granted a new sentencing hearing to present evidence about his youth. These hearings, now referred to as “Franklin Hearings,” enable defendants convicted of crimes before turning 26 to present evidence of youth-related mitigating factors in determining their sentence. This ruling applies to both new and previously adjudicated cases.
Franklin Hearings aim to offer defendants a chance to present evidence of factors linked to their youth that might have influenced their criminal behavior. The objective is to allow the court to weigh these factors when deciding a fitting sentence that acknowledges the individual’s unique situation and potential for rehabilitation. Examples of mitigating evidence that may be presented during a Franklin Hearing include:
Age at the time of the offense.
Emotional or mental maturity during the offense.
A troubled upbringing or unstable youth environment.
Limited cognitive ability to recognize the wrongness of their actions.
Emotional growth demonstrated during imprisonment.
Favorable risk assessments and psychological reports.
Typically, a Franklin Hearing takes place after conviction but before sentencing. For those who have already been convicted, the court usually appoints a forensic psychology expert to evaluate the defendant. The defendant’s lawyer may also engage an investigator to examine the defendant’s family and childhood history and a social worker to create a mitigation report. These factors hold significant weight during future parole hearings, as the Parole Board will be informed of the mitigating factors to determine the individual’s suitability for release.
As a psychologist and forensic expert, I often conduct Franklin evaluations. These comprehensive assessments require me to review extensive documentation, particularly for previously convicted defendants with long incarceration periods. Documents may include police reports, probation reports, character letters, academic certificates, psychological reports, and prison files. After reviewing these materials, I carry out a face-to-face psychological evaluation, generally in a correctional facility, to assess the defendant’s psychosocial history and overall functioning. I place particular emphasis on youth-related mitigating factors and the defendant’s growth and maturity, considering factors such as family history, relationships, education, employment, medical and mental health history, substance use, and legal history.
Growth and maturity are assessed using additional information like prison records, which document the defendant’s behavior during incarceration and engagement in programs such as work, school, and self-help groups. I also investigate the individual’s relationship with family and friends and conduct a discharge planning assessment. Those with a well-rounded discharge plan addressing housing, education, vocational training, employment, and medical and psychological needs generally fare better upon release from prison.
If you or someone you know requires an assessment for a Franklin Hearing, it is necessary to engage an attorney for assistance. If the defendant cannot afford a private attorney, a panel attorney can be appointed.
In every case I encounter, I can’t emphasize enough the importance discharge planning from the very day you arrive in prison. The more one is prepared, the better chance you’ll have when presenting to the Parole Board that you’re able to demonstrate your potential to engage in prosocial behaviors and are ready to be released. Success favors the well-prepared. So, keep your spirits high and never lose hope.