Los Angeles County District Attorney

Judge Blocks Some of LA District Attorney's Reform Policies

DA George Gascon was expected to appeal an LA Superior Court Judge's findings that some blanket orders to drop sentencing enhancements were unlawful.

George Gascon
Bryan Chan/County of Los Angeles via AP

A judge has decided some of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon's justice reform policies aimed at reducing punishment for some of the most serious crimes were, "unlawful," and cannot be implemented as the new DA ordered.

L.A. Superior Court Judge James Chalfant said in a ruling Monday Gascon cannot direct prosecutors to dismiss sentencing enhancements for certain prior convictions, or strikes, in thousands of open criminal cases.

Judge Chalfant also said Gascon may not order a blanket dismissal of special circumstance allegations that could result in a person convicted being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, also, in open cases.

Gascon tweeted a response saying, "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. 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."

There are approximately 10,000 already-filed criminal cases that may be affected by the decision, according to the DA's office.

The ruling, however, said Gascon may prevent prosecutors from alleging these enhancements when new criminal charges are filed, and the enhancements could be dismissed on a case-by-case basis if there was justification under state law.

The decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by the union that represents most prosecutors in the office, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.

"The court ruled as expected in holding that the District Attorney cannot order his prosecutors to ignore laws that protect the public from repeat offenders," the Association said in a written statement.

NBC4’s Conan Nolan talks with Michele Hanisee, the President of the Association of LA County Deputy District Attorneys on why they are suing their boss-- George Gascon. The association represents some 800 District attorneys in the county of Los Angeles. The hearing is set for February 2.

"This ruling protects the communities which are disproportionately affected by higher crime rates and those who are victimized," it said.

Gascon was expected to appeal the ruling, a staffer said Monday.

Early in his term Gascon rescinded another of his reform initiatives that had barred prosecutors from seeking sentencing enhancements in hate crime and child and elder abuse cases, but said few other enhancements would be allowed, no matter the circumstances of the case.

"I recognize there are some victims that want this office to seek the maximum sentence permissible in their case, but punishment must be in the community's best interest, proportional, and it must serve a rehabilitative or restorative purpose," Gascon said in a public letter to the residents of LA County.

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