The state Supreme Court Wednesday, Aug. 31, agreed to decide whether Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has the power to bar his lawyers from asking for stiffer terms for offenders with prior convictions.
The high court granted a petition for review that stemmed from Gascón’s appeal of rulings in Los Angeles County Superior Court and in the Second District Court of Appeal that largely favored claims made by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys concerning the lawfulness of his orders on sentencing enhancements.
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. Elected in 2020 on a progressive agenda, Gascón 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.
In 2021, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled largely in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, saying Gascón cannot issue a blanket order telling prosecutors to ignore laws the ADDA contends were designed to protect the public, including three-strike additions and other sentencing enhancements.
A three-judge panel of the California Second District Court of Appeal largely agreed in a 71-page ruling in June, 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.” In July, Gascón announced plans to appeal that ruling, saying it “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 District Attorney’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.”
Gascón maintains 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 District Attorney’s Office. “They also disproportionately affect minorities — almost 93% of people sent to prison from Los Angeles County are Black people and people of color.”
In a statement released after Gascón announced his appeal, the ADDA said Gascón’s decision to take the case to the state Supreme Court shows he thinks the rule of law doesn’t apply to him.
“He believes his election is a mandate from the voters that vests him with unlimited power to impose his personal ideology, even when doing so means disregarding the will of the voters, the legislators, and the governor who enacted the three-strikes laws,” according to the association. “He insists on treating first-time offenders and repeat offenders the same. Yet the `science and data’ on which he relies dissolves under basic scrutiny.”
A second attempt to recall Gascón failed earlier this month because proponents could not collect enough valid petition signatures to place the proposal on the ballot.