Gascon announces sweeping changes to county criminal justice

Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.
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Anyone expecting changes in the Los Angeles County criminal justice system with the election of newly sworn-in District Attorney George Gascon got what they expected this week.

On Day 1, the county’s newest lead prosecutor announced nine sweeping new directives, some of which are regarding changes discussed during the campaign trail that have prompted concerns from the law enforcement community.

Gascon listed the special directives on the D.A.’s website, which ranged from eliminating cash bail to getting rid of prior offenses in many sentencing considerations to several other sweeping changes.

During the runup to the election, both the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and the Association of Deputy District Attorneys endorsed Gascon’s opponent, former District Attorney Jackie Lacey, with the ADDA writing several editorials critical of Gascon and his record. A spokesperson for the ADDA noted the organization was meeting Tuesday night, and did not have comment immediately available, and representatives for both the sheriff’s deputies union and the California Highway Patrol officers union did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

Here’s a brief overview of the directives Gascon announced Monday, which took effect Tuesday:

Cash bail

The first directive listed on the D.A.’s site states: “The presumption shall be to release individuals pretrial.” Gascon, saying cash bail creates a “two-tiered” justice system for the haves and have-nots, has eliminated a bail mandate for suspects in L.A. County.

“Conditions of release may only be considered when necessary to ensure public safety or return to court,” according to the directive.  

“Pretrial release conditions, if any, shall be considered in order from least restrictive (No Conditions) to most restrictive (Electronic Monitoring / Home Detention),” Gascon noted. “Pretrial detention shall only be considered when the facts are evident and clear, and convincing evidence shows a substantial likelihood that the defendant’s release would result in great bodily harm to others or the defendant’s flight.”

Certain misdemeanors not to be prosecuted

“The misdemeanor charges specified … shall be declined or dismissed before arraignment and without conditions unless ‘exceptions’ or ‘factors for consideration’ exist,” Gascon wrote.

Those charges include trespassing, disturbing the peace, unlicensed driving, criminal threats, drug possession, drunk in public, loitering and prostitution, among others.

Sentencing enhancements stricken

Any prior-strike enhancements will not be used for sentencing; STEP Act enhancements will not be used for sentencing; special circumstances allegations resulting in a (life without parole) sentence shall not be filed, will not be used for sentencing and shall be dismissed or withdrawn from the charging document; and bail or parole violations shall not be filed a separate offense.

Other directives

The HABLIT, as Gascon called it, is a team expected to focus on post-conviction litigation, which is being created with special directive No. 10.

His next directive proclaimed the District Attorney’s Office will not seek an execution date for any person sentenced to death, nor will it defend existing death sentences, and will engage in a thorough review of every existing death penalty judgment from Los Angeles County with the goal of removing the sentence of death. 

The Conviction Integrity Unit is being revamped in an effort to “conduct strategically collaborative, good-faith case reviews designed to ensure the integrity of challenged convictions, remedy wrongful convictions, and take any remedial measures necessary to correct injustices uncovered, within the bounds of the law,” according to Gascon.

He also sought to add duties to the Bureau of Victim Services, which is now mandated to contact all victims of violent crime within 24 hours of receiving notification. This includes sexual assault, homicide, attempted homicide, domestic and intimate partner violence. Support will be provided to both victims/survivors as well as any children who witnessed or were indirectly affected by violence and crime.

Gascon’s resentencing provision calls for his office to reevaluate and consider resentencing all people who have already served 15 years in prison. 

Juveniles accused of misdemeanors will not be prosecuted, according to Gascon’s new directive. If deemed necessary and appropriate, youth accused of misdemeanor offenses and low-level felonies will be referred to pre-filing, community-based diversion programs.

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