Following a heavy public backlash, Los Angeles County’s newly-elected, controversial district attorney reversed course on Friday, reinstating the use of some sentencing enhancements for cases involving “the most vulnerable” victims.
In a memo to his staff, D.A. George Gascón reportedly said he had re-evaluated a special directive issued just 11 days earlier after taking the oath of office. The order banned prosecutors from seeking sentence enhancements and required they be withdrawn from pending matters. Gascón said he had amended that policy. He told deputy district attorneys that they may now file enhancements in a limited range of circumstances, including hate-motivated crimes, child and elder abuse cases, sex abuse, and human sex trafficking.
Sentence enhancements are intended to act as extra punishments, added on to the charge of an underlying offense.
Enhancements can now be filed in the following cases: hate crimes, elder abuse, child abuse, child and adult sexual abuse & human sex trafficking.
— James Queally (@JamesQueallyLAT) December 18, 2020
“Nearly all of the concerns I have heard center around my policy of ending all enhancements,” Gascón said in an open letter to the public released on Friday. “To be responsive to your input, I have decided to make some adjustments to my initial directives.”
The letter continued: “Where aggravating factors exist I believe existing sentencing schemes provide sufficient latitude to prosecutors to seek higher sentences, but some victims remain concerned and I want you to know that we are listening.”
However, D.A. Gascón emphasized that he still believes “enhancements have never been shown to enhance safety,” calling them “the primary driver of a system of mass incarceration.”
— George Gascón (@LADAOffice) December 18, 2020
Gascón did not campaign on eliminating all sentencing enhancements, and his plan to do so, along with other elements of his progressive agenda, was met with immediate resistance. The new directives sparked a revolt from local law enforcement groups and several deputy district attorneys within Gascón’s office. Victims’ families and prosecutors connected with media outlets, and their stories helped create a plethora of new critics, many of whom were generally quiet during the election.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “the friction has heated up with startling speed and intensity, affording the district attorney no honeymoon period.”
Gascón-hating is going to be a hobby among disgruntled Trump supporters. Like how Deadheads started following Phish after Jerry died.
— LA Justice Defender (@LADefenders2020) December 19, 2020
Still, as Southern California Public Radio reports, “Gascón’s order eliminating a wide range of other sentencing enhancements remains in place,” and:
Defendants with prior “strikes” under the state’s Three Strikes law, those who have been in prison recently, and those listed in the state’s gang database will no longer face extra time behind bars.
Prosecutors are also still prohibited from seeking sentencing enhancements for the use of a gun, unless the manner in which the weapon was used in a crime “exhibited an extreme or immediate threat to human life,” according to the revised policy.
The reversal is an indication of the tumult inside the DA’s office, where many prosecutors have expressed dismay and anger at Gascón’s decision to reduce prison sentences. Even some criminal defense attorneys have been astonished at the speed with which he’s moved to roll back decades of policies inside the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), a union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, issued a statement after Gascón’s reversal.
“It took a national outcry for him to understand that child rapists, human traffickers, and perpetrators of violent hate crimes should spend some more time behind bars,” it read. “Yet he’s still willing to go easy on gang members who terrorize our neighborhoods or criminals that shoot cops in the back of the head.”
On Friday, D.A. Gascón accused “police unions, private attorneys and others with financial motives” of making “provably false and salacious statements in a concerning attempt to sow fear and panic.” He condemned “the profiteers of mass incarceration” that “continue to exploit gullible members of the media into airing vile and sensational claims.”