Since he took office Dec. 7, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon has come under fire for implementing a series of directives for progressive prosecution that he promised during his campaign.
He was a guest on Eyewitness Newsmakers Sunday while he was still awaiting a ruling from Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant that could stop Gascon from enforcing his directives. The Deputy D.A.'s union, the L.A. Association of Deputy District Attorneys, wants a preliminary injunction blocking the directives they say are illegal. The D.A. said his new policies are carrying out the will of the voters.
"We believe that we are within our constitutional authority, and this is for the discretion, that elected district attorney has, and it's about the separation of powers, frankly," said Gascon.
On Monday, Chalfant ruled mostly in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County, saying Gascon cannot order his prosecutors to ignore laws that the union says protect the public, including three-strike allegations and sentencing enhancements.
One of his most controversial directives is eliminating cash bail, even though voters did not approve Prop 25, eliminating it. He said many opponents did not trust the proposed evaluation system that replaced it.
"How much money you have in the bank should never determine whether you're going to be free or not," he said.
His directives remove sentencing enhancements, special circumstances, gang enhancements and the death penalty. Gascón says the old policies aren't making L.A. safer.
"Crime was going up in L.A. County under the old method," he said, adding, "in fact, during the last seven, seven and a half years, not counting 2020, violent crime in L.A. County went up in excess of 25%. L.A. County incarcerated at a 70% rate; higher than the rest of the state."
After Gascon said his deputies would not appear with victims' families at parole hearings, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he would send his deputies in their place. Former D.A. Steve Cooley said he would organize representation. A recall effort is now gathering support.
Gascón maintains longer jail time does not make society safer.
"What we're doing by incarcerating people for extended periods of time, and by incarcerating people very early on, and over and over again, is that we're creating a higher likelihood that those people will re-offend, and when they re-offend, they create more victims." he said. "When we're doing this, we're actually continuing to victimize future generations by the way that we have been doing our work."
In court, Chalfant suggested Gascon might seek some sentencing enhancements "rarely" instead of "never."
On Eyewitness Newsmakers when asked if he would modify his directives, Gascon said, "If after a year or two years into this process, we're seeing that some of the things need to be modified, we will modify them accordingly. But I can almost guarantee it's not going back to the old way. It will be something new that we haven't discussed yet. And that's what we need to accept."