After coming under sharp criticism from prosecutors and victims’ advocates, new L.A. District Attorney George Gascón today lifted his ban on seeking longer prison sentences for people accused of hate crimes, elder abuse, child abuse, and sex trafficking.
The DA’s decision reverses elements of a policy he instituted just 11 days ago when he took office. Critics argued it took away a valuable tool to punish some criminals.
“After listening to victims, the community, and deputy district attorneys, I have reevaluated my Special Directive 20-80 and hereby amend it to allow enhanced sentences in cases involving the most vulnerable victims,” Gascón said in a memo to his staff.
He also said he will allow for enhancements if a victim’s physical injuries are “extensive,” although he didn’t further define the term.
The policy change will affect a tiny fraction of the more than 60,000 cases the DA’s office files every year.
Gascón’s order eliminating a wide range of other sentencing enhancements remains in place. 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.
“It’s been a bit dizzying, and drastic,” said defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg. “I think they are playing catch-up.”
In an open letter to the community, Gascón said he revised the policy to be “responsive” to community concerns, while reiterating his argument that sentence enhancements don’t enhance public safety, “increase recidivism,” are “the primary driver of a system of mass incarceration,” and are “three times more likely to be applied to defendants who are African American or mentally ill.”
The DA also took a shot at “police unions, private attorneys and others with financial motives” for making “false and salacious statements” about his new policies in an attempt ‘to sow fear and panic.”
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