Los Angeles, CA – A Los Angeles judge on Monday ruled that the new district attorney can’t order prosecutors to ignore the “three strikes law” and sentencing enhancements that protect the public from criminals.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant heard arguments on Feb. 2 in a petition filed by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County against the new district attorney, KABC reported.
The prosecutors’ union contended the a number of directives made by new Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon the day he was sworn into office in December violated state law.
On Dec. 7, 2020, Gascon told his staff to dismiss, withdraw, or not file special circumstance allegations that could result in a life without parole prison sentence, KABC reported.
He also ordered his staff to dismiss gang enhancements and firearm allegations that would extend prison sentences for violent offenders and put a halt to prosecutors opposing parole for any inmate who has already served their minimum mandatory sentence.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced the first week of February that he would start sending someone from the sheriff’s department to support victims and their families at parole hearings after the District Attorney’s Office failed to send a prosecutor to object to the release of a member of the Manson family.
But some judges have refused to dismiss special circumstance allegations or permit prosecutors to amend them in cases that were filed before Gascon became district attorney, KABC reported.
The prosecutors’ union’s attorney, David J. Carroll, told the judge that it was wrong to order prosecutors to do things they believed were against the law and that violated their statutory duties.
“The touchstone of prosecutorial discretion is the exercise of case-by-case discretion, which [Gascon’s] special directives expressly, intentionally and undisputedly prohibit,” Carroll argued. “Those directives are thus unlawful.”
Carroll said that following Gascon’s directives would put prosecutors in danger of violating their code of ethics, KABC reported.
He also said it would be inappropriate for Gascon to order his deputy district attorneys to argue that something was unconstitutional when they did not actually believe that was the case.
Chalfant granted most of the union’s petition in a preliminary injunction on Feb. 8, KABC reported.
The union celebrated the judge’s ruling as based “on what the law is and not what an officeholder thinks it should be” for sentencing repeat offenders.
But the attorney representing Gascon and the DA’s office was quick to point out that the judge didn’t stop the new district attorney from applying his directives to new cases, KABC reported.
“The judge did not enjoin the D.A.’s policy prohibiting deputy district attorneys from filing most sentencing enhancements in new cases,” attorney Robert Dugdale said. “However, he enjoined application of most aspects of the remaining directives.”
Dugdale insisted that two million Los Angeles County voters knew what they were doing when they elected Gascon, who ran for office on a criminal justice reform platform, KABC reported.
Gascon was a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) assistant chief and police chief of Mesa, Arizona before he was elected district attorney of San Francisco and then ran for office in Los Angeles.
“On November 3, more than 2 million people in Los Angeles County voted for a system of justice based on science and data, not fear and emotion,” Gascon said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “Nevertheless, I never had any illusions as to the difficulty and challenges associated with reforming a dated institution steeped in systemic racism. My directives are a product of the will of the people, including survivors of crime, and a substantial body of research that shows this modern approach will advance community safety.”
The district attorney announced he would appeal Chalfant’s ruling, KABC reported.
Gascon pointed specifically to the “ three strikes law” and complained the judge’s ruling would force his office to apply that law “contrary to the current practice in Los Angeles County and other jurisdictions across the state.”
He claimed that the reform measures in his directive will make the city safer, KABC reported.
“We can no longer afford – morally, socially or economically – to justify tough-on-crime policies in the name of victims when a majority of the survivor community supports rehabilitation over excessive sentences,” Gascon said. “The long-term health and safety of our community depend on it.”
Dugdale has claimed the union didn’t have the right to sue the district attorney and that all of the decisions Gascon has made thus far are within his purview, KABC reported.