Gascón amends directive allowing for 16- and 17-year-olds to be charged with more crimes

Courtesy of the Los Angeles County District Attorney

County prosecutors can now charge 16- and 17-year-olds for attempted murder and forcible sexual assaults, according to new orders Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón issued Tuesday.

Tuesday’s order changes Special Directive 20-09 regarding how youth are prosecuted. It aims for a more restorative youth justice process, according to Gascón’s original statement issued with the guidelines, which were to be effective immediately. 

The policy amendments now allow for charging 16- and 17-year-olds with the following: 

  • Attempted murder;
  • Forcible sexual assaults, including rape, oral copulation, sodomy, rape by a foreign object and a lewd or lascivious act;
  • Other strike offenses “only in extraordinary circumstances where the physical injury inflicted on the victim is extensive, where the manner in which a deadly or dangerous weapon, including firearms, is used and exhibited an extreme and immediate threat to human life, or where the conduct exhibited an intention to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering.” 

Prior to Tuesday’s amendments, the only exception to the directive was if charges involved forcible rape and murder. It also adds that “charging alternative charges for the same criminal act shall be prohibited.” 

The changes join other amendments the district attorney has issued since implementing his directives last month, including allowing some exceptions on sentencing enhancements. 

The moves have been repeatedly questioned, with subsequent changes that demonstrate a “trial and error” approach by Gascón with “the safety of the community and potential lives that could be lost” at stake, according to Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a Santa Clarita resident and deputy district attorney for the Family Violence Division, Complex Child Abuse Section. 

“Gascon’s original directive said that DDAs could not charge 16- and 17-year-olds with attempted murder. He didn’t give a legal reason why. If a gang member who was 17 years old shot and paralyzed a juvenile victim, a DDA could only charge felony assault. That is clearly not justice. That is not right,” Hatami said via text message. “True reform comes from hard work, in the trenches, not armchair quarterbacking from someone who knows nothing about the law, crime or victims.”

Meanwhile, a lawsuit brought forth by the union for Los Angeles County prosecutors against the D.A. received support from the California District Attorneys Association with the filing of an amicus brief Tuesday. 

“Blanket directives that effectively nullify state law not only act to marginalize crime victims, they also serve to place individual prosecutors in ethical harm’s way,” read the brief. “When each deputy district attorney has a solemn legal and moral obligation to uphold the state and federal constitution, an administrative decision to curtail individualized consideration of cases forces the attorney to choose between that which is right and that which is commanded.”

Attorneys for Gascón argued last week that the union’s argument “is wrong” and that his policies have been implemented “in the wake of significant research showing excessive sentencing practices yield no public safety benefit and do not promote the interests of justice,” according to the lawsuit. 

A hearing on the case is set for Feb. 2.

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