Francis v. Franklin, 471 U.S. 307 (1985)

2012-06-25 14:31:02

Francis v. Franklin expanded on the Court’s earlier decision in Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979), by holding that jury instructions that create an unconstitutional burden-shifting presumption in a criminal trial could not be cured by informing the jury that the presumption was rebuttable. During an escape from custody, Franklin killed a man with a pistol. Franklin’s sole defense was that the firing of the gun was unintentional. The judge charged the jury that a person’s acts were presumed to be the product of his will and that a person was presumed to intend the natural and probable consequences of his acts, then the judge charged that these presumptions could be rebutted. The jury convicted Franklin of murder, and he was sentenced to death. After exhausting state remedies through unsuccessful appeals in Georgia, Franklin sought federal habeas corpus relief.

Franklin argued that the jury charge violated the due process clause, because it relieved the State of its burden to prove the element of intent beyond a reasonable doubt, and the Court agreed. Justice Brennan found that a reasonable juror could have understood that the disputed instructions created a mandatory presumption that shifted to Franklin the burden of persuasion on the element of intent once the state had proven the act of firing the pistol. Justice Brennan also found that neither the use of rebuttable language nor the jury instructions read as a whole cured the error.

 Franklin affirmed the basic constitutional principle that the State has the burden to prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and the jury must be so charged.


Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510 (1979)

See also Capital Punishment; Capital Punishment: Due Process Limits; Capital Punishment: History and Politics; Proof beyond a Reasonable Doubt