Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Thursday (July 14) that he is heading to the state Supreme Court to challenge an appeal ruling that blocked a directive he issued barring prosecutors from allege 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 Appeals requiring prosecutors to file such allegations “sets a dangerous precedent.”
“The court effectively takes the charging decision out of the hands of the prosecutor – the primary function of a prosecutor’s office,” according to the statement from the prosecutor’s office. “The decision also forces California prosecutors to ignore important research that shows longer prison sentences do not lead to increased public safety and to ignore the unique factors in each individual case that militate against the use of strikes.”
The appeals court’s decision came in a lawsuit brought by the Association of Assistant 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 ignoring laws that the ADDA said were designed to protect the public, including three-strike allegations and sentencing enhancements. .
A three-judge panel of the California Second District Court of Appeals largely agreed in a 71-page ruling last month, saying in part that “the voters and the legislature have created an obligation, enforceable by mandamus, that compels prosecutors to plead before serious or violent felony convictions to ensure that the alternative sentencing system created by the three strikes law applies to repeat offenders.
Gascón had argued that he had discretion to allege prior convictions or sentence improvements.
The appeals court panel, however, ruled: “The district attorney overstates his authority. He is an elected official who must obey the law, not a sovereign with absolute discretion and without control.
In Thursday’s statement, the district attorney’s office argued that the three-strike law “imposes draconian penalties on defendants who have already been convicted of certain prior crimes.”
“These policies increase recidivism rates, have little or no deterrent effect, and keep people in jail long after they pose a risk to the safety of their community,” according to the prosecutor’s office. “They also disproportionately affect minorities – nearly 93% of people sent to jail from Los Angeles County are black and people of color.”
Gascón issued a series of special directives upon taking office, many of which angered some law enforcement officials who accused him of being soft on crime. Gascón, who was elected on a progressive platform, said he received a mandate from people who wanted to see changes to the justice system, moving away from excessively long county sentences which he says have not does little to reduce crime or act as a deterrent.
Gascón is facing a second recall effort, with the county registrar/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.