Francis v. Franklin

LOCATION: Public Schools

DOCKET NO.: 83-1590
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 471 US 307 (1985)
ARGUED: Nov 28, 1984
DECIDED: Apr 29, 1985

Ronald J. Tabak - on behalf of Respondent
Susan V. Boleyn - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Francis v. Franklin

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 28, 1984 in Francis v. Franklin

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Francis v. Franklin.

Ms. Boleyn, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Susan V. Boleyn:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court, there are the major points that are the question for the Court's resolution in this case, and I'd like to briefly outline those points before going back and addressing them in more detail for the Court's consideration.

The State of Georgia originally sought a petition for writ of certiorari in this case because of our great concern about the ramifications of the holding of the Eleventh Circuit in connection with its finding about the Sandstrom violation that it found in this case and the application of the reasonable juror test in Sandstrom to state court instructions, especially in the context of a federal habeas corpus case.

As we stated in our brief to the Court, we contend that the Eleventh Circuit both misinterpreted and misapplied the holding of the Supreme Court in Sandstrom v. Montana and specifically unnecessarily broadened the reasonable juror test set forth by the Court in that decision.

We contend that the charge considered as a whole in this case was permissive in nature, did not have a mandatory effect on the jury, and did not interfere with the fact-finding ability of the jurors.

The second point that we wish to discuss this morning is our contention that the Eleventh Circuit properly considered whether or not harmless error rule would prohibit the granting of the writ of habeas corpus in this case, but then improperly decided that the harmless error rule under the facts of this case did not prohibit the granting of the writ of habeas corpus.

It's our contention that harmless error would have prohibited the granting of the writ, as it's our contention that there was overwhelming evidence of the Respondent's guilt of murder, and that his defense to the charges was, in fact, frivolous if the facts of the case are examined.

The validity of the holding in Francis v. Franklin is important to us for several reasons.

First of all, at the time that Mr. Franklin was tried, this charge that is the subject of the Court's review today was a standard charge utilized by many of the state courts in Georgia.

And, in effect, there are 31 death penalty cases pending in the Elevent Circuit which potentially may be affected by this Court's decision in the case.

Of course, the potential impact of the harmless error rule is very great in Georgia, as if all of these 31 cases, for example, did have a charge found to be violative of Sandstrom, the application of the harmless error rule might prevent needless retrial in cases where the doubt... there is no doubt, excuse me, as to the guilt of the Respondent.

The procedural history in this case, we contend, is very important for the Court's consideration of these issues.

First of all, the Georgia Supreme Court in the Respondent's direct appeal to that court, found that under the principles of Sandstrom, the effect of the instruction was to merely create a permissive instruction, and that it was not unconstitutionally burden shifting.

Next, of course, in the federal habeas corpus court, the district court found that under the principles of Sandstrom, the charge in this case was distinguishable from that found to be unconstitutional in Sandstrom, because there was additional language considering the court's charge as whole which indicated that the charge was, in effect, permissive.

The Eleventh Circuit then considered the case on appeal and determined that the effect of the contested portion of the charge was mandatory; therefore, the charge was unconstitutional; therefore, federal habeas corpus relief should be granted.

It's interesting to note that after the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in the Franklin case, the court had the occasion on several other times to consider a similar charge, sometimes finding that the similar charge violated the Constitution and sometimes finding that it didn't.

Warren E. Burger:

You mean an internal, intra-circuit conflict?

Susan V. Boleyn:

Yes, Your Honor.

In the Corn case, for example, there were very similar instructions, and the panel considering that case found that there was no mandatory presumption created by--

Warren E. Burger:

What before or after we divorced the East Divison from the West, the Eleventh--

Susan V. Boleyn:

--It was after it was the Eleventh Circuit, Your Honor.

It was an Eleventh Circuit case.

Essentially, our position is that we urge a return to the principles of Cupp v. Naughton in determining when the reasonable juror test requires reversal.

John Paul Stevens:

--May I ask a question about... maybe it's a question of Georgia law bock, because each case has somewhat different facts.

And this is a case in which the Defendant shot the man through the door, isn't it?

Susan V. Boleyn:


John Paul Stevens:

When the door slammed, then the gun went off.

As a matter of Georgia law, what intent had to be proved in order to establish the conviction.

Do you have to prove that the Defendant intended to kill the victim, or merely intended to pull the trigger?