Ruby Franke and Jodi Hildebrandt face 6 counts of child abuse. Here's what the trial could look like, according to legal experts.

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  • Ruby Franke and Jodi Hidlebrandt both face six felony counts of aggravated child abuse.

  • They were arrested after one of Franke's children, malnourished and wounded, escaped from a window.

  • Legal experts spoke to Insider about what might happen during the trial.

YouTuber mom Ruby Franke appeared in court on September 8 in her first hearing, facing six felony child abuse counts.

Franke was arrested after her 12-year-old son escaped from a window at Hildebrandt's home, according to a police affidavit that was shared with Insider.

He went to a neighbor to ask for food and water and was described in the documents as emaciated and wounded, with duct tape around his ankles.

The case has attracted immense interest, both from those who have been following Franke for years, and longtime critics of family vlogging.

Franke's business partner Jodi Hildebrandt is facing the same charges, after the pair were arrested on August 30.

Their first court appearance was chaotic, with more than 1,000 users cramming into the online meeting, being disruptive and shouting random words, and playing Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's NSFW "WAP."

Viewers have been anticipating that Franke would face repercussions for her parenting for some time, and have suggested Franke and her husband Kevin Franke were mistreating their children as long ago as 2020.

The first appearance is only the start of a case that thousands, perhaps millions, of people are eager to watch.

Legal experts spoke with Insider about what an upcoming trial could bring, and how they might defend themselves.

The charges

Franke and Hildebrandt face six felony counts of child abuse. If intentionally inflicted, the perpetrator faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 under Utah law.

Franke and Hildrebrandt's legal representatives did not respond to requests for comment from Insider.

On September 8's hearing, a judge decided Franke and Hildebrandt would be held without bail, but their attorneys may request it again.

Mike Schmidt, a defense attorney and partner at Schmidt and Clark LLP, told Insider the likelihood they will be granted bail depends on several factors, including the seriousness of the charges, their ties to the community, their criminal history, and their potential flight risk.

"In cases involving child abuse charges, the court may be cautious about granting bail, especially if there is evidence suggesting that Franke poses a risk to the alleged victim," he said.

Natalie Whittingham-Burrell, a criminal defense attorney and legal commentator who has been covering the case on her YouTube channel, told Insider that to be found guilty of the charges, prosecutors would have to prove that the person who had care and custody of the child caused the abuse, or the parent or guardian knowingly allowed someone else to abuse them.

Alphonse Provinziano, a certified family law specialist and a former deputy district attorney, told Insider it is impossible to know whether Franke and Hildebrandt will be convicted, or what punishment the court will choose.

But he said he has seen judges hand out harsh punishments toward perpetrators of crimes against children, often doling out maximum sentences "because of the breach of trust and abuse of power that the parent has over the child."

"It is unfortunate that it took the bravery of a child to escape the situation and get out of it to take action," Provinziano said. "The authorities in this case failed these children by preventing this from happening in the first place."

The prosecution

The prosecutor in this case has plenty of evidence to use in an upcoming trial. Whittingham-Burrell said they will likely be able to use Hildebrandt and Franke's old YouTube content, which has been the subject of much discussion and analysis from viewers for years.

Some now-infamous clips include Franke refusing to bring her 6-year-old daughter lunch, and taking away her son's bedroom after he played a prank on his brother.

"Normally it wouldn't be relevant because it's just prior bad acts not really relevant to the conversation of what happened here," she said. "But if they have this theory of child-rearing that includes a pattern of abuse, I think that might become relevant."

The videos may be particularly applicable if they can show Franke demonstrated a "lack of mistake," Whittingham-Burrell explained.

"So if she has a pattern of abusing them, she can't say, 'Oh, it was an accident, I didn't realize that this was abuse,'" she said. "It could show modus operandi the way of committing a crime."

The videos could also show a motive, she added, to prove the abuse was intentional.

"It could be the bizarre beliefs that came from the connections classroom," she said, "It wasn't accidental, it wasn't just negligent, it was intentional and knowing abuse on the children."

8 passengers ruby chad
Ruby Franke (right) and her oldest son, Chad.8 Passengers / YouTube

Franke rose to fame as the mother of the family vlogging channel 8 Passengers, which grew to 2.5 million subscribers at its peak. In 2023 she started getting heavily involved in Hildebrandt's family counseling business and YouTube channel ConneXions instead.

The channel focuses heavily on parenting, and has faced its own allegations of being overly authoritarian in its messaging, with both Hildebrandt and Franke advocating absolute control over children.

Prosecutors could cite anything where they state their ideals on parenting "and use that against them," Whittingham-Burrell said.

Regardless of all the potential evidence, the prosecution will need to prove they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Schmidt said, "which is a high standard."

"It's essential to remember that legal outcomes can be unpredictable," he said. "And it ultimately depends on the evidence presented in court, the strength of the prosecution's case, and the effectiveness of Franke's defense."

The defense

In Utah, the definition of aggravated child abuse includes starvation, broken bones, head injuries from hitting or shaking, and suffocation. It's a heavy, and difficult, case to defend.

The defense in this case is likely to demand to see all of the prosecutor's evidence, Whittingham-Burrell said, because with these kinds of cases people are likely to make rash decisions based on emotion. It's important defense attorneys remove themselves from emotion too, for the same reason.

"If they're drawing a connection between the crime and your client, you want to make sure that connection is actually there," she said. "You have to divorce yourself from the emotion so that you can make sure that the state is meeting all of its elements of the offense, and that they're not just jumping to conclusions."

They will also want to look at their client's mental health, she added, that may have prevented her from what's known as the men rea — the mental intent to commit the crime. Plus they will want to find witnesses to oppose whatever the witnesses of the prosecution will say.

"You want to poke any holes in their cases," she said.

Provinziano said the only real defense for Franke might be able to argue is if she can claim she had no knowledge of the abuse inflicted on her children.

"This seems unlikely given that she is placed in the residence," he said. "And given her own prior statements that food, water, shelter are gifts and not necessities, it is likely that the children were victims of a harsh and abusive parenting paradigm."

Ruby Franke with her oldest daughter, Shari.
Ruby Franke with her oldest daughter, Shari. Screenshot / Shari Franke

Critics of Franke and Hildebrandt have kept a close eye on their content for years, and some have theorized that Franke's behavior became more extreme when she joined forces with Hildebrandt.

Whittingham-Burrell said she would be "surprised" if Franke and Hildebrandt were a united front in court. In these kinds of cases, the defendants often point fingers at each other, she said. Brainwashing, however, is not a recognized defense, she said.

"The devil made me do it, it's not a defense," she said. "However, you can argue that this person was also abusing you and you didn't feel like you could fight against them for whatever reason, then maybe that is somewhat mitigating or somewhat of a defense."

Franke's eldest daughter Shari, who cut off contact with her immediate family last year, may play a part if that defense is used. In a podcast eight months ago, she discussed escaping her family after her parents became involved with ConneXions.

"I'm investigating that if I'm representing Ruby Franke," Whittingham-Burrell said. "I'm going to say it's all Jodi. Just like how she abused the children, she abused my client."

Whittingham-Burrell added that while there seems to be a "good faith basis" for the allegations, it's important to remember that nobody knows the whole truth until the trial starts.

"There's certainly a lot of videos that would raise a cause for concern that something was going on behind the scenes when the cameras are not rolling," she said.

"But I always like to try to remind people to keep in mind that until the case is proven to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, or the person pleads guilty, they are legally innocent."

Read the original article on Insider