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Judge Issues Injunction Blocking Several Directives From L.A. County’s New Controversial D.A.

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SAN FRANCISCO - MAY 05: San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon speaks during a news conference at the San Francisco Hall of Justice May 5, 2010 in San Francisco, California.
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A Los Angeles judge issued a preliminary injunction against new, controversial L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón this week, temporarily blocking several of his reforms to preserve the status quo pending final resolution upon a trial.

The Los Angeles Times reported, “Gascón was barred from implementing a significant part of his sprawling criminal justice reform platform Monday, after a judge ruled his plan to end the use of sentencing enhancements in thousands of criminal cases violates California law.”

According to the outlet, “the order stemmed from a lawsuit filed late last year by the union that represents hundreds of L.A. County prosecutors, alleging some of Gascón’s plans exceeded his legal authority and put line prosecutors in an ethical bind.”

Gascón said his legal team would appeal the court’s decision, adding his office “will adjust its policies to be consistent with this ruling.”

“I never had any illusions as to the difficulty and challenges associated with reforming a dated institution steeped in systemic racism,” Gascón said in a statement. “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.”

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County (ADDA) had asked for a writ of mandate from the court to compel D.A. Gascón to rescind several of his new policies, declaring them “invalid and illegal.”

David Carroll, an attorney representing the ADDA, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram that the lawsuit “has never been about whether sentencing enhancements are good or bad policy…but about whether a district attorney can force prosecutors to violate clear California law in order to carry out his desired policy changes.”

Gascón had issued a set of special directives shortly after taking the oath of office in December, including one that banned prosecutors from using prior offenses, known as “strikes,” in sentencing enhancements that act as extra punishments, added on to the charge of an underlying crime. The union argued that policy violated the state’s Three Strikes Law, approved by voters in 1994, which the ADDA says mandates lengthening sentences of previously convicted felons.

“The Special Directives violate the Three Strikes law by prohibiting prosecutors from pleading and proving prior convictions in new cases,” wrote L.A. County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant. “Prosecutors have a ministerial duty to allege all prior convictions under the Three Strikes law.”

More details from the L.A. Times:

In his ruling, Judge James Chalfant noted that the “three strikes” law requires prosecutors to “plead and prove” all prior serious or violent felony offenses. He found Gascón’s directive ordering prosecutors not to file such enhancements unlawful, and cited several appellate cases that upheld the argument that strike offenses must be charged under state law.

“A district attorney’s discretion is not unlimited. He or she must work within the framework of the criminal system,” Chalfant wrote. “The legislature also is entitled to enact laws intruding on the executive or judicial branches of government so long as they do not defeat or materially impair that branch’s core function.”

In a 46-page ruling, Chalfant also barred Gascón from ordering prosecutors to dismiss any sentencing enhancements in active cases, unless they can argue that there is insufficient evidence to prove the enhancement or that the dismissal would be in the interest of justice.

As The Times notes, however, “Gascón can still bar prosecutors from filing most sentencing enhancements in new cases, though enhancements for prior strike offenses must still be charged, according to the order.”

Several prominent progressive leaders and organizations in L.A. County are standing with Gascón.

Black Lives Matter’s L.A. chapter issued a statement on Wednesday voicing support of Gascón, contending that “ending Three Strikes and sentence enhancements” were part of his platform during the campaign and a key reason voters supported him by a margin of 53.72% to 46.28% over the two-term incumbent.

“The people of Los Angeles voted for George Gascon because they want progressive, transformative change, and an end to punitive sentencing – like three-strikes – which has been used to harm Black defendants and communities disproportionately,” BLM’s statement read.

While Gascón did pledge not to enforce California’s Three Strikes law if elected, he only committed to eliminating gang enhancements while on the campaign trail.

Still, Gascón maintains that “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.”

“We can no longer afford – morally, socially or economically – to justify tough-on-crime policies in the name of victims when a majority of the survivor community supports rehabilitation over excessive sentences,” Gascón said after Monday’s ruling. “The long-term health and safety of our community depend on it.”

Related: Los Angeles Prosecutors Union Sues New Progressive D.A. Gascón Over Special Orders

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