In a rebuke to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a state appeals court panel Thursday upheld a lower court’s injunction blocking his directives ordering prosecutors not to pursue prior-strike allegations or sentencing enhancements.
The ruling is the latest twist in a legal challenged launched by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, which took issue with directives Gascón issued shortly after assuming office in December 2020.
Last year, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled largely in favor of the association, saying Gascón cannot issue a blanket order telling prosecutors to ignore laws the union contends were designed to protect the public, including three-strike allegations and sentencing enhancements.
A three-judge panel of the California Second District Court of Appeal largely agreed in a 71-page ruling Thursday, stating in part that “voters and the Legislature created a duty, enforceable in mandamus, that requires prosecutors to plead prior serious or violent felony convictions to ensure the alternative sentencing scheme created by the three strikes law applies to repeat offenders.”
Gascón had argued that he has discretion of whether to allege prior convictions or sentencing enhancements. The appeals court panel ruled, however, “The district attorney overstates his authority. He is an elected official who must comply with the law, not a sovereign with absolute, unreviewable discretion.”
Eric Siddal, vice president of the ADDA, hailed the ruling.
“Today [June 2] the judiciary affirmed the rule of law,” Siddal wrote on his Twitter page. “Gascón’s authority is not absolute. He must follow the rules. While we are heartened by the court’s ruling, we continue to be disappointed that LA’s chief prosecutor forced us to take him to court to stop him from breaking the law.”
Gascón issued a series of special directives upon taking office, with many of them raising the ire of some law enforcement officials who accused him of being soft on crime. Gascón, who was elected on a progressive agenda, has said he had a mandate from the people who wanted to see changes in the justice system, moving away from excessively long prison sentences that he claims have done little to reduce crime or act as a deterrent.
Gascón is facing a second recall effort, with organizers saying this week they had already collected more than 500,000 signatures. The organizers have until July 6 to collect at least 566,857 petition signatures to force a recall vote.
Previous related story: Judge mulls DA union request to stop Gascon from enforcing directives