Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Thursday he is going to the state Supreme Court to challenge an appellate ruling that blocked a directive he issued preventing prosecutors from alleging prior-strike allegations.
In a statement, Gascón’s office said the June ruling by a three-judge panel of the California Second District Court of Appeal requiring prosecutors to file such allegations “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“The court is effectively taking the charging decision out of the prosecutor’s hands — the core function of a prosecutor’s office,” according to the statement from the D.A.’s Office. “The decision also forces prosecutors around California to ignore important research that shows longer prison sentences do not lead to increased public safety and to ignore the unique factors of each individual case that militate against using strikes.”
The appeals court ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the organization that represents Gascón’s own prosecutors. The lawsuit challenged directives Gascón issued the day he took 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 ADDA 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 last month, 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.”
In Thursday’s statement, the District Attorney’s Office contended the three-strikes law “imposes draconian penalties on defendants who were previously convicted of certain prior felonies.”
“These policies increase recidivism rates, have little-to-no deterrent effect and keep people in prison long after they pose any safety risk to their community,” according to the D.A.’s Office. “The also disproportionately affect minorities — almost 93% of people sent to prison from Los Angeles County are Black people and people of color.”
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 the Registrar- Recorder/County Clerk’s Office currently reviewing the validity of more than 715,000 petition signatures to determine if enough of them are valid to force a recall election.