A Judge Sides with Deputy District Attorneys Fighting a George Gasc贸n Policy Change

Doing away with certain sentencing enhancements has been a key part of the new DA鈥檚 agenda

UPDATE: 5:30 P.M. 鈥撀On Monday afternoon, DA George Gasc贸n issued a statement addressing Judge Chalfant鈥檚 ruling:

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. Nevertheless, I never had any illusions as to the difficulty and challenges associated with reforming a dated institution steeped in systemic racism.聽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.

While Judge Chalfant鈥檚 ruling does not impact the vast majority of my directives, the court did rule specifically on my Three Strikes policy. The ruling is novel in that it requires my office to apply the Three Strikes law contrary to the current practice in Los Angeles County and other jurisdictions across the state. Accordingly, our legal team will be fling a nice of appeal. Until the appeal is decided, my office will adjust its policies to be consistent with this ruling.聽

We can no longer afford鈥搈orally, socially, or economically鈥搕o justify tough-on-crime policies in the name of victims when a majority of the survivor聽community supports rehabilitation over excessive sentences. The long-term health and safety of our community depend on it.鈥澛

FEBRUARY 8, 2021, 1 P.M. 鈥 Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant has agreed to issue a preliminary injunction requested by a union that represents prosecutors against their boss, District Attorney George Gasc贸n, who issued a series of Special Directives that told prosecutors to stop applying certain 鈥渆nhancements鈥 in sentencing.

鈥淭he Special Directives violate the Three Strikes law by prohibiting prosecutors from pleading and proving prior convictions in new cases. Prosecutors have a ministerial duty to allege all prior convictions under the Three Strikes law,鈥 Judge Chalfant wrote. 鈥淭he Special Directives violate Respondents鈥 duty to prosecute violations of general laws under Government Code section 26500, which is mandatory, not discretionary.鈥

The injunction will, at least for the time being, mean the District Attorney cannot compel the prosecutors below him to follow the Special Directives.

A petition to the court from the Association of Deputy District Attorneys accused Gasc贸n of 鈥渓egislating by fiat鈥 by choosing not to enforce sentencing enhancements, directing prosecutors not to seek upgraded penalties, and reevaluating certain incidents of past sentencing in cases where individuals were given harsher penalties than would be issued now due to those enhancements.

The prosecutors union argued that by being told not to apply those enhancements, Gasc贸n had 鈥渃ommanded his employees [鈥 to violate numerous statutory mandates and refrain from performing their duties under the law.鈥

Following initial legal action by the ADDA in December, Gasc贸n clarified his original Special Directive 20-08 to reinstate sentencing enhancements for cases of hate crimes, child abuse, sex trafficking, financial crimes, and elder and dependent adult abuse. That primarily left prosecutors with direction not to employ enhancements associated with prior convictions (including the Three Strikes Law), possible gang affiliation, and firearms.

In presenting evidence to Judge Chalfant, the District Attorney argued, in part, that it is the enforcing of enhancements that inappropriately ties the hands of prosecutors, not the other way around.

鈥淚n the experience of Monnica L. Thelen, Esq., a deputy public defender since 2005, the defense sometimes will make a counteroffer to the prosecution鈥檚 plea offer. Defense counsel may point out weaknesses in the prosecution鈥檚 case or may present mitigating circumstances that support the counteroffer,鈥 the filing states. 鈥淥n many occasions, prosecutors have informed Thelen that while he or she would be inclined to accept the counteroffer the prosecutor cannot do so because the prosecutor鈥檚 manager will not allow it.鈥

Gasc贸n is largely joined in that argument by an amicus brief from the ACLU cited in today鈥檚 court filing, which argued that 鈥淎DDA鈥檚 interpretation of the Three Strikes law takes away this prosecutorial discretion in a manner that raises serious constitutional questions.鈥

The argument in favor of the Special Directives also asserts that they are at times used as a cudgel to pressure defendants, particularly juvenile offenders.

鈥淎lthough most prosecutors review their cases and exercise their discretion to charge only the appropriate charges and enhancements, some overcharge their cases, piling on counts and enhancements,鈥 the argument states. 鈥淔or example, prosecutors routinely file gang enhancements for the most mundane crimes committed by gang members even though the crime was not committed for the gang鈥檚 benefit. This practice of overcharging and routinely filing felonies is particularly prevalent in juvenile cases. Prosecutors routinely choose to charge the most egregious of charges that impact the most vulnerable of clients.鈥

RELATED:聽New DA George Gasc贸n Announces Big Law Enforcement Reforms on Day One

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