L.A. County DA George Gascón Announces Criminal Justice Reform Directives

Upon taking his oath of office on December 7, 2020, newly elected District Attorney George Gascon announced a range of criminal justice reform directives. The new policies aim to address disparities in the system and ensure public safety while also protecting those accused of crimes from being unjustly prosecuted and incarcerated.

A few of the special directives that took effect on December 8, 2020 apply to:

Cash Bail

Cash bail will no longer be required for pre-trial release of people charged with any misdemeanor, non-serious felony, or non-violent felony. Additionally, such release will be without conditions unless terms are needed to ensure that the defendant appears for scheduled court dates. If conditions are set, they must be reasonable and only to the level necessary to protect the public's safety and ensure the defendant will attend their proceedings.

The justification behind this reform is that cash bail perpetuates a cycle of criminal behavior, affects families and communities, and unfairly impacts people of color. By eliminating cash bail, individuals who don't have the financial means to pay for their release will no longer be unnecessarily held in custody while awaiting trial.

Conviction Integrity Unit

Because false accusations and wrongful convictions frequently occur in the criminal justice system, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) will employ stringent case review criteria. A strategic and thorough approach will be applied when looking into claims of innocence or wrongful conviction. The Unit will review such cases filed in Los Angeles County where evidence or methods are available to substantiate the claims. In cases where the selection criteria do not apply, the CIU may use an "interest of justice" exception.

Death Penalty

As of December 8, 2020, the L.A. County District Attorney's Office will no longer seek the death penalty. If any case is pending and the death penalty has not been sought, such a sanction can no longer be pursued. According to the memo from District Attorney George Gascón, the death penalty is ineffective at deterring crime and puts innocent people's lives at risk. Additionally, the death penalty is disproportionately imposed upon people of color.

Felony Charging

The L.A. County District Attorney's Offense will longer pursue sentence enhancements or other sentence allegations. District Attorney George Gascón's memo on the directive refers to research that suggests sentence enhancements do not deter crime and may result in recidivism. As such, the office will apply only the statutory ranges to cases, which should be "sufficient to both hold people accountable and also to protect public safety."

The change in policy applies to:

  • Prior strike enhancements
  • "5 year prior" and "3 year prior" enhancements
  • Gang enhancements
  • Special Circumstances allegations
  • Violations of bail or own recognizance release

If any cases are pending and sentence enhancements were sought, they shall be withdrawn. Additionally, if anyone was convicted with 120 days of the new policy and subject to a sentence enhancement, they can seek resentencing.

Habeas Petitions

Under this new directive, the L.A. County DA's Habeas Litigation (HABLIT) Unit will not immediately defend convictions or fervently pursue challenges against post-conviction disputes. Instead, HABLIT must thoroughly review the case and evaluate its merits. If the Unit determines that the conviction was wrongful, it shall recommend solutions to remedy the injustice.

Youth Justice

The L.A. County District Attorney's Office will take into account research and science behind juvenile development when pursuing cases involving minors. The Office will not transfer any juvenile case to adult court, will not prosecute misdemeanors, will refer juveniles accused of felonies to diversion programs. It will focus on alternatives to detention to helping kids stay out of the juvenile/criminal justice system. Resources will be invested in programs and services that will give minors access to treatment and support for mental health issues and trauma.

Misdemeanor

Many misdemeanors are committed by people suffering from mental health issues, substance abuse problems, and homelessness. Prosecuting such offenses are costly and often result in a pattern of criminal behavior. They affect the accused, as well as their family and the community as a whole. As such, the L.A. County District Attorney's Office will begin declining or dismissing cases associated with these problems. Instead of being subjected to criminal penalties, the individual will be diverted to treatment services to address the underlying issues and prevent recidivism.

The offenses to which the new policy applies include but are not limited to:

  • Trespass
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Driving without a valid license
  • Driving on a suspended license
  • Criminal threats
  • Drug and paraphernalia possession
  • Minor in possession of alcohol
  • Drinking in public
  • Under the influence of a controlled substance
  • Public intoxication
  • Loitering
  • Loitering to commit prostitution
  • Resisting arrest

If certain exceptions exist, the assistant district attorney may pursue prosecution.

Resentencing

New sentencing policies are aimed at overhauling outdated directives that did more harm than good. Resentencing will apply to both pending cases and those that have already concluded. The L.A. County District Attorney's Office will review cases in which the sentence imposed was not proportionate to the crime committed. It will consider resentencing individuals who have served at least 15 years of their term.

Victims

The Bureau of Victim Services (BVS) will focus on helping crime victims heal and re-enter society by providing the support and services they need.

Under the new policy, the BVS will:

  • Contact victims within 24 hours of being notified of the offense
  • Contact surviving family members of victims of police violence
  • Provide support to all victims and their families regardless of immigration status
  • Provide financial resources for victims and their families

About DA George Gascon

In 1967, George Gascon emigrated from Cuba with his parents. They first lived in Miami and then moved to Los Angeles, where Gascon, struggling with language barriers, dropped out of high school and began working at a grocery store. He served in the army and eventually earned his degree in history. Gascon worked as a patrol officer with the Los Angeles Police Department and was later appointed San Francisco's Chief of Police by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. Later, he served as the San Francisco District Attorney and was re-elected twice.

Gascon is known for his pursuit of criminal justice reform and his focus on fairness and safety.

Call The Law Offices of Ian Wallach, P.C. for Legal Help

The L.A. County District Attorney's Office's new directives will affect numerous people currently charged with crimes or who have already been convicted. They provide access to treatment services and legal vehicles that allow for a second chance at life. I, Attorney Ian Wallach, am committed to helping individuals in Los Angeles seek the best possible outcomes in criminal matters. I am ready to provide the legal services necessary to assist you or your loved one in taking advantage of the opportunities available under the new policies.

To learn more about how the special directives may impact your current or past case, call me at (213) 375-0000 or contact me online. I'll clearly explain your options and provide the guidance you need.

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