Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón
Official photo from District Attorney website

The union representing Los Angeles County prosecutors has blasted District Attorney George Gascón for his plan to appeal a court ruling that blocked one of his directives preventing prosecutors from alleging prior-strike allegations in criminal cases.

“Last month, a unanimous Court of Appeals panel reminded George Gascón that `he is an elected official who must comply with the law, not a sovereign with absolute, unreviewable discretion.’ He obviously disagrees with that basic premise,” according to a statement from the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.

The appeals court ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the association challenging directives Gascón issued the day he took office in December 2020.

Last year, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled largely in favor of the association, saying Gascón cannot issue a blanket order telling prosecutors to ignore laws the ADDA contends were designed to protect the public, including three-strike allegations and sentencing enhancements.

A three-judge panel of the California Second District Court of Appeal largely agreed in a 71-page ruling last month, stating in part that “voters and the Legislature created a duty, enforceable in mandamus, 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.”

Gascón on Thursday announced plans to appeal that ruling, saying it “sets a dangerous precedent.”

“The court is effectively taking the charging decision out of the prosecutor’s hands — the core function of a prosecutor’s office,” according to the statement from the D.A.’s Office. “The decision also forces prosecutors around California to ignore important research that shows longer prison sentences do not lead to increased public safety and to ignore the unique factors of each individual case that militate against using strikes.”

The District Attorney’s Office contended the three-strikes law “imposes draconian penalties on defendants who were previously convicted of certain prior felonies.”

“These policies increase recidivism rates, have little-to-no deterrent effect and keep people in prison long after they pose any safety risk to their community,” according to the D.A.’s Office. “The also disproportionately affect minorities — almost 93% of people sent to prison from Los Angeles County are Black people and people of color.”

The ADDA, in its statement Friday, said the decision to appeal the court’s ruling shows Gascón “is convinced that the rule of law doesn’t apply to him.”

“He believes his election is a mandate from the voters that vests him with unlimited power to impose his personal ideology, even when doing so means disregarding the will of the voters, the legislators, and the governor who enacted the three strikes laws,” according to the association. “He insists on treating first time offenders and repeat offenders the same. Yet the `science and data’ on which he relies dissolves under basic scrutiny.

“The public should recall that he ran on the promise that his policies would deliver safer communities. Now he denies responsibility for the rising crime that is affecting all our communities.”

Gascón issued a series of special directives upon taking office, with many of them raising the ire of some law enforcement officials who accused him of being soft on crime. Gascón, who was elected on a progressive agenda, has said he had a mandate from the people who wanted to see changes in the justice system, moving away from excessively long prison sentences that he claims have done little to reduce crime or act as a deterrent.

Gascón is facing a second recall effort, with the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office currently reviewing the validity of more than 715,000 petition signatures to determine if enough of them are valid to force a recall election.

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