Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon on Monday outlined sweeping plans for criminal justice reform as he was sworn-in to office, including major changes in how cases are charged, the use of cash bail, the removal of sentencing enhancements, and an expansion of efforts to overturn unjust convictions.
Gascon also sent an open letter to police officers in L.A. County Monday morning explaining his intentions, and his staff said Gascon would begin efforts to make the DA’s Office the sole agency responsible for investigating all police shootings.
Gascon’s letter warned that he has “profound intolerance” for dishonest officers.
“Those who engage in unconstitutional policing have severely hindered the standing and safety of us all,” Gascon wrote in the letter, obtained by NBC LA. “We are all scarred by their misdeeds, leading many in our communities to perceive police as persecutors instead of protectors,” he said.
Gascon formerly served as an LAPD officer and the Department’s assistant chief before being elected DA in San Francisco.
Among the reforms expected to be detailed:
- Prosecutors will no longer ask for the accused to be held in lieu of cash bail. Rather, prosecutors will request detention with no bail for those accused of certain serious or violent crimes and will not oppose those accused of misdemeanors and, “non-violent, non-serious,” felonies to be released on their own recognizance.
- Gascon’s office will immediately drop any efforts to seek the death penalty in murder cases and will disband the committee of prosecutors who decided which cases were suitable for a death sentence.
- Prosecutors will no longer be allowed to seek sentencing enhancements, such as those for committing a crime to benefit a gang or for the use of a gun. Gascon’s office will also apply the criteria retroactively, which could potentially cause the resentencing of tens of thousands of people already sent to prison to new, shorter terms.
- Juvenile cases will never be allowed to be transferred to adult court, no matter the offense. Gascon’s office will ask that any pending cases be returned to juvenile court, where sentences are much shorter and focused more on rehabilitation.
- Prosecutors will stop charging many crimes, and almost all misdemeanors, related to, “poverty, homelessness, or addiction.”
The letter to police also addressed Gascon’s desire to change the way many in the justice system are punished, with a greater emphasis on reform and rehabilitation, rather than jail and prison.
“We will, for example, divert rather than prosecutor many low-level first-time offenses due to the collateral consequences and destabilizing nature of a criminal conviction,” he wrote.
Gascon explained that the combination of overly severe prosecution and the public perception that police agencies fail to hold officers to the same standards that are imposed on the community, “has created a chasm that the public largely views as a two-tiered system of justice; one for “us” and one for “them.””
He told officers that he will listen to and consider all evidence, and that, “there will be neither sacred cows nor sacrificial lambs.”
“You can expect that I will work to reduce incarceration and punishment except in those circumstances in which punishment is proportional, is in the community’s best interest, and serves a rehabilitative or restorative purpose.”
Gascon has also pledged to immediately reconsider whether or not police officers broke the law in at least four on-duty shootings, including the killing of a homeless man by the LAPD in 2015, a suspected thief shot by police in Gardena in 2013, a man shot by officers in Torrance, and a 2015 killing by Long Beach Police in which an officer fired into an apartment through a window and shot a 19-year-old man who was unarmed.
Prosecutors previously closed each of the cases citing insufficient evidence the shootings were unlawful. Gascon’s staff said Monday that it expected many more shooting cases to be re-evaluated after these four were examined.