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Judge Blocks DA Gascón's Push For Shorter Sentences In Pending Cases

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DA George Gascon. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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In a significant setback to L.A. DA George Gascón’s reform agenda, a judge Monday blocked him from forcing his prosecutors to seek shorter prison sentences in hundreds of current criminal cases. Gascón had ordered his prosecutors to move to dismiss three strikes, gun, gang and other so-called sentencing enhancements.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued a preliminary injunction against Gascón at the request of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the union that represents 800 frontline prosecutors. He agreed with the union’s argument that under the state penal code, a prosecutor can only seek dismissal of enhancements based on the circumstances of a specific case, not in response to a policy directive.

But while the judge granted the union’s request for a preliminary injunction “in large part,” he said Gascon will be allowed to prohibit his prosecutors from filing most sentencing enhancements in future cases.

"He has almost unfettered discretion to perform his prosecutorial duties and the public expects him to evaluate the benefits and costs of administering justice in prosecuting crimes," the judge ruled. "He was elected on the very platform he is trying to implement and any intrusion on this prosecutorial discretion is not in the public interest unless clearly warranted."

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The ruling makes two exceptions: prosecutors must initially file previous strikes under the Three Strikes law, which carry a sentence of 25 years to life, and they must filed any special circumstance allegations that would result in a sentence of live in prison without parole. Enhancements for using a gun, being a member of a gang or inflicting great bodily injury during the commission of a crime can add many years to a prison sentence.

The prosecutors' union hailed the ruling, saying the judge "ruled as we expected in holding that the District Attorney cannot order his prosecutors to ignore laws that protect the public from repeat offenders."

Gascón issued a statement saying he will appeal the ruling.

In his directive ordering an end to their use, Gascón argued enhancements have fueled mass incarceration of mostly Black and brown men, "[t]here is no compelling evidence that their enforcement improves public safety," and that "[i]n fact, the opposite may be true."

"California's mass incarceration problem can be tied directly to enhancements and the extreme sentencing laws of the 1990s," Gascon declared on Dec. 7, his first day on the job.

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Many prosecutors believe enhancements help protect the public by putting criminals away for longer periods of time. They often play a key role in plea negotiations; prosecutors use them as a powerful bargaining chip, sometimes offering to drop enhancements in exchange for a guilty plea.

READ MORE ABOUT JUDGE CHALFANT'S RULING:

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