Appeals Court Orders LA County DA Gascón to Enforce Three-Strikes, Special Circumstances

The appeals panel largely sided with a legal challenge brought by prosecutors at the LA County District Attorney’s Office, who argued DA George Gascón exceeded his authority in ordering certain sentencing reforms.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.

A three justice panel of the California Appeals Court ruled Thursday that LA County District Attorney George Gascón cannot order prosecutors to sidestep elements of the state's 3-strikes law that may increase prison terms when filing criminal charges, and cannot order prosecutors to drop or withdraw special circumstance allegations that could lead to sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

"We conclude the voters and the Legislature created a duty…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," the Appeals Court said.

The opinion followed a ruling by an LA Superior Court judge last year who found Gascón had exceeded his authority when he ordered prosecutors to dismiss or ignore prior convictions in many cases where those priors would increase the sentence of a person convicted of a new crime.

The Appeals opinion also said, however, that the 3 strikes law does not require prosecutors to prove that those prior convictions, or strikes, are true, and said prosecutors could ask to eliminate or drop sentencing enhancements for reasons unrelated to an individual defendant or the evidence in a specific case.

"Today the Appellate Court gave a civics lesson to DA George Gascón," said Eric Siddall with the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the prosecutors' union that brought the suit. "They basically told George Gascón you don't have absolute power as LA DA, that you're an elected official, that you have to abide by the law."

"Today's ruling maintains the District Attorney's discretion and authority as an elected constitutional officer," the DA's Office said. "The court affirmed his ability to pursue his policy goals in the furtherance of justice."

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