At the end of January, Legal Insurrection reported that ultra-progressive Los Angeles County District Attorney Gascon’s “reforms” were putting the region’s criminal justice system in “free fall.” For example, Gascón forced his prosecutors to read statements in court impugning the state’s “three strikes” law and ending specific penalties.

The situation was so bad that the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County argues in the lawsuit that deputy district attorneys cannot follow the directives without violating the state penal code. A judge now has temporarily blocked Gascón’s efforts to impose his reform directives.

The directives forbade prosecutors from seeking longer sentences for repeat offenders under the state’s Three Strikes Law, as well as in several other types of cases. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County (ADDA) brought a lawsuit against him, and Judge James Chalfant granted their request for a preliminary injunction, allowing certain sentencing enhancements to continue for the duration of the case.

“The District Attorney’s disregard of the Three Strikes law ‘plead and prove’ requirement is unlawful, as is requiring deputy DA’s to seek dismissal of pending sentencing enhancements without a lawful basis,” Chalfant’s Wednesday order said.

The judge was forced to remind Gascón it stems from a law that California citizens approved.

Prosecutors must file three-strikes charges “in every case in which the defendant has a prior serious or violent conviction,” Chalfant said. “That is what the voters and the Legislature both wanted.”

Once the charges are filed, he said, a prosecutor may seek a shorter sentence as part of a plea agreement, or ask the judge for a reduction “in the interest of justice,” Chalfant said. But he said the district attorney’s order forbidding all three-strikes sentences puts prosecutors at risk of being found in contempt of court for illegal and unethical conduct.

Chalfant’s order, which impacts several thousand cases in LA County, was heralded by the firm representing the union.

The ruling affects a significant number of cases in L.A. County, where there are 10,794 defendants currently facing charges with sentencing enhancements, according to statistics provided to The Times in response to a public records request.

Gascón can still bar prosecutors from filing most sentencing enhancements in new cases, though enhancements for prior strike offenses must still be charged, according to the order.

“Today’s decision is a victory for the rule of law. This lawsuit has never been about whether sentencing enhancements are good or bad policy, but about whether a district attorney can force prosecutors to violate clear California law in order to carry out his desired policy changes,” Nathan Hochman, a partner at the law firm representing the union, said in an email.

Gascón is reportedly planning to appeal.

 

 
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