New District Attorney George Gascon took office on December 7, 2020, and immediately issued new policy directives that radically changed criminal law in all of Los Angeles county and the Long Beach Courts. New D.A. Gascon instituted a dramatic softening of the sentences sought by the District Attorney’s Office on felony and misdemeanor cases.
Since that time, the new D.A. has received significant blow back from judges and even his own deputies. On February 28, 2021, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued an injunction that prevented the dismissal of strike enhancements and special circumstance murder enhancements as directed by the new D.A. As of August 17, 2021, the matter is still on appeal.
Long Beach criminal attorney Matthew Kaestner has summarized the new D.A.’s policies below. Whether all of them go into effect will depend on the pending lawsuit. Most policies are unaffected by the lawsuit and currently in effect.
The day he took office on December 7, 2020, District Attorney Gascon issued 9 major directives effecting how the District Attorney would prosecute and not prosecute criminal laws. Those 9 directives were: Pretrial Release Policy, Misdemeanor case Management, Sentencing Enhancements/Allegations, Youth Justice, Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit, Death Penalty Policy, Victim Services, Conviction Integrity Unit, and Resentencing.
The Pretrial Release Policy Directive [20-06] initially recognizes the “Unfairness of Cash Bail--”that cash bail “creates a two-tiered system of justice” that “unduly impact(s) low-income communities of color.” The new policy is that there is a “presumption of own recognizance release without conditions.” Deputy D.A.’s are directed not to request bail for “any misdemeanor, non-serious felony, or non-violent felony offense.” D.A.’s are to seek only the least restrictive conditions to any pre-trial release. Bail is to be set taking into account a person’s financial condition.
Conditions of release (from most restrictive to least restrictive) to be recommended by deputy D.A.’s a can be: release to a family member with a promise to accompany the defendant to court, phone/text/online check ins, travel/driving restrictions, stay away orders, 12 step meetings, order to surrender weapons, ignition interlock device, in person check ins, mental health/alcohol/drug treatment or testing, residential programs, home relocation, secure alcohol monitoring devices, electronic monitoring/GPS and home detention.
The Misdemeanor Case Management Directive [20-07] seeks to avoid the “revolving door” of the courts of persons in need of mental health or drug treatment and to “reorient our focus towards combating violent and serious criminal offenses.” In most circumstances the D.A. will not prosecute the following misdemeanor offenses: trespassing, disturbing the peace, driving without a license or with certain suspended licenses, criminal threats, possession of drugs for personal use or paraphernalia to use drugs, minor in possession of alcohol, drinking in public, under the influence of drugs, public intoxication, loitering, loitering to commit prostitution, and resisting arrest.
Misdemeanor (pre-plea) diversion is to be sought by deputy D.A.’s for all crimes except DUI, sex crimes requiring registration, domestic battery, and stalking in most circumstances. Exceptions to granting diversion shall apply to persons with a history for the same conduct in the last 24 months or there is a documented history of threats or violence, or clear evidence of a continuing threat to another or “other circumstance of similar gravity.” The D.A. will not to oppose waiver of fines and fees by indigent defendants.
The Sentencing Enhancements and Allegations Directive [20-08] is perhaps the most radical departure from prior District Attorney Policy in the history of the office. This directive instructs deputy D.A.’s to ELIMINATE all sentencing enhancements that are a “legacy of California’s ‘tough on crime’ era.” Thus the D.A. will NO LONGER FILE STRIKE PRIORS, GANG AND WEAPONS ENHANCEMENTS, GBI enhancements, MURDER SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES and others. DUI and domestic violence priors as well as priors that are an element of the offense (ex. felon with a firearm) will be the rare exception to the new directive.
The new policy applies to all future cases, those pending and those sentenced within the past 120 days. Offenses eligible for probation are to be offered probation or if not, offered the low term absent extraordinary circumstances approved by the bureau director.
The Youth Justice Directive [20-09] is another radical departure from prior policy. The office “WILL END THE PRACTICE OF SENDING YOUTH TO THE ADULT COURT SYSTEM, for anything. Strike crimes will not be charged against 16-17 year olds except for murder and forcible rape. NO misdemeanors are to be filed as well as various felonies involving property damage, and some child pornography. Dispositions shall be substantially less punitive and formal probation sought only in serious felony cases.
The Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit Directive [20-10] asks prosecutors to recognize that wrongful convictions occur and that they should not raise procedural challenges to a petition to set aside a wrongful conviction.
The Death Penalty Policy Directive[20-11] initially recognizes that death verdicts are disproportionately levied against people of color, that seeking death is incredibly expensive, is immoral, and that the risk of executing innocent people is too high. The DEATH PENALTY WILL NO LONGER BE SOUGHT by the Los Angeles District Attorney and current and prior death sentences will be reviewed and dates of execution not sought.
The Victim Services Directive [20-12] requires the Bureau of Victim Services to contact all violent crime victims within 24 hours to provide support, including the families of individuals killed by the police. An emergency fund will be established to assist victims to supplement California State compensation to include assistance for relocation, funeral costs, and other essential needs. Arrest warrants will not be sought for victims who refuse to come to Court.
The Conviction Integrity Unit Directive [20-13] sets up an independent unit to examine claims of innocence made by attorneys and persons acting on their own to challenge wrongful convictions. The unit will focus on potential mistaken eyewitness identifications, false and coerced confessions, recanting witnesses, official misconduct, inaccurate forensic evidence, and other instances when an innocent person may have been convicted. This unit will work to investigate claims and work more collaboratively with lawyers and convicted persons who are challenging wrongful convictions.
The Resentencing Directive [20-14] is another dramatic shift from prior policy and requires that deputies follow the above directives any time a matter comes before the Court on a re-sentencing after appeal, or some other recall. More critical, it directs that “this Office commits to a comprehensive review of cases where the defendant received a sentence that was inconsistent with the charging and sentencing policies [in the other directives.]” Also the office “will reevaluate and consider for resentencing people who have already served 15 years in prison.”
After immediate blow back to the easing of criminal penalties sought by the D.A.’s office, and prior to his own deputies filing a lawsuit, on December 18, 2020 Gascon issued a letter indicating that enhancements may be filed “in cases involving the most vulnerable” such as “children, the elderly, and hate motivated crimes” Gascon went on to insist that “punishment must be in the community’s best interest” and that “profitieers of mass incarceration” will “continue to exploit gullible members of the media” with relatively rare instances of inadequate sentences for violent offenses.
Although sentences meted out in Los Angeles County on felony cases and misdemeanors handled by the District
Attorney of Los Angeles have been substantially softened under Gascon’s leadership, it is always critical to have expert legal defense on your side prior to going to court. Long Beach criminal law lawyer, attorney Matthew Kaestner brings his 35 years of criminal law experience to every case he takes. He can be reached directly at 562-437-0200.