Coalitions Commend DA Gascón’s Effort to End ‘Racist’ Sentencing Guidelines

George Gascon at a candidate’s forum in February

By Lauren Smith

LOS ANGELES – The DROP Life Without Parole (LWOP) coalition and California United for a Responsible Budget (CURB) issued a statement this week that they “enthusiastically welcome” Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s new resentencing guidelines.

More specifically, these coalitions commend Gascón #20-08 directive that “stops L.A. prosecutors from filing special circumstances allegations which would result in a Life Without Parole/LWOP sentence.”

This new directive is attributed to a push for more progressive criminal justice reforms spearheaded by organizations such as Black Lives Matter and Justice L.A that gained momentum in 2020 “delivering unprecedented change.”

Over the past few years, the DROP LWOP coalition has condemned life without parole sentences as “cruel, arbitrary and racist.”

According to their statement, 68 percent of people who receive life without parole sentences are Black and Latinx, and 62 percent of those sentenced to life without parole in California were “25 years or younger at the time of their offense.”

The coalition states that life without parole “is not a humane alternative to the death penalty but is in fact a living death sentence.”

One of the most important aspects of a life without parole sentence is charges with special circumstances that automatically require either a life without parole sentence or the death penalty and are “completely at the District Attorney’s discretion…therefore [they] can be ended by a District Attorney.”

The DROP LWOP coalition stated that District Attorney Gascón’s decision to not file special circumstances charges, is “effectively dropping the LWOP charge for Los Angeles county going forward” and is therefore “setting a powerful example for other District Attorneys around the state and the country.”

Another aspect of Gascón’s resentencing guidelines is a pledge to review cases of those who received life without parole sentences for possible resentencing.

The DROP LWOP statement reads, “This resentencing initiative for L.A. county is a step towards correcting one of the harshest most racist sentencing practices in the state.”

Lauren Smith is a fourth year student at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and Psychology. She is from San Diego, California.

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The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    It appears Gascon is already backing down on some of his directives due to backlash:

    The newly-elected district attorney in Los Angeles County is already reversing one of his controversial policies after significant backlash. George Gascon says he will now allow his prosecutors to seek sentencing enhancements for some major crimes. Those include sexual assault, hate crimes, child abuse and elder abuse.



      1. Keith Olsen

        Seriously?  It’s unfortunate that major crimes like sexual assault, hate crimes, child abuse and elder abuse will be subject to sentencing enhancements?

  2. Alan Miller

    The coalition states that life without parole “is not a humane alternative to the death penalty but is in fact a living death sentence.”

    I don’t get this at all.  LWOP is a living death sentence.  That’s what it’s supposed to be.  Are we serious that there is no crime so horrific that life without parole is a reasonable sentence?  I could dig through descriptions of murder, rape, kidnap and torture and copy thousands of bullet points of crimes to make my point – but you’re all familiar with gory details.  Why would anyone want special circumstances off the table?

    That racial disparities exist is without doubt.  That even accounting for differences in crime rates by race there are built-in systemic disparities is without doubt.  I want to see every effort made to reform our systems to eliminate these disparities.  It is probably a forever job.

    But LWOP is for horrific crimes.  How is eliminating LWOP going to help with racial disparities in the justice system?  How about dealing with the causes of racial disparities, instead of one result?  If you are going to take the DROP LWOP tact, you know what else would help with racial disparities in the justice system?  –>  Letting everyone out of jail and never prosecuting anyone for any crimes.  Heck, why even arrest people?  Let’s just defund the police and not have police anymore.  Put all the money into social programs and in about 30 years we’ll have a utopia. (Davis could do its part by re-opening the Teen Center)

    In the mean time . . . the whole country can be renamed NAZ (National Autonomous Zone) and use CHAZ from Seattle as a working model for national governance.  That’s going great isn’t it?  How is CHAZ these days?

    But back to the USA, I imagine DROP-LWOP-oids are about 100% against the death penalty, wouldn’t you say?  Since that is still an issue, why would anyone start a movement that takes what is a widely accepted alternative to the DP off the table?  That would cause a backlash that could prolong the existence of the death penalty.  I mean strategically, you might want to think about that 😐

    Does this movement have a chance?  I sure as f*ck hope not, and I really doubt it does.  We live in one of the most liberal states in the union, and our governor is left of left even by California standards.  And even he, with probation boards recommending her release from prison for years, denied Leslie Van Houten release from prison, for political reasons I’m sure.  If those are the politics of California, what chance does DROP LWOP have?

    But hey, maybe someone has a fantasy to strangle four women to death and kidnap and murder a 12-year old girl like Rodney Alcala; or a fantasy to kidnap, ***lly-rape, and strangle a woman and dump her in a field like James Marlow (he killed some other people too); or a fantasy to kidnap, rape and kill a twelve-year-old girl, like Richard Allen Davis — I could go on with hundreds of examples, many much more greusome.  Come to California if you have these fantasies!  You could live out your fantasy, and even if you’re caught — you’ll be out in 15 — so you can live out your fantasy again!  California here I come!

    And she said, “hey psycho-killer now wontcha settle down?
    California may be your kinda town
    There ain’t no life-sentence and there ain’t no death penalty!
    “You’ll be out in fifteen if you go on a killing spree!”

    (Apologies to Dave Loggins)

    1. David Greenwald

      A lot of people believe that there are some who need to be in prison for the rest of their lives, but most don’t, and by having a life with parole sentence, you can make the determination later rather than at the time of sentencing.  Some of these people are literally kids when they get sentenced, they come from horrible backgrounds, and they end up spending decades in prison, many of them turn their lives around.  That’s the thinking behind getting rid of LWOP.

      1. David Greenwald

        For example, why does Leslie Von Houghton still need to be in prison in her 70s for a crime she committed at 19?  (She’s not LWOP but that case came to might).

        1. Ron Oertel

          For example, why does Leslie Von Houghton still need to be in prison in her 70s for a crime she committed at 19?

          Systemic racism?  😉

          Though now that I think about it, there was kind of a hate-crime element from their leader, I guess.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Politics, and family members of victims still alive…

          NorCal rapist why should he be incarcerated at all?  58, no rapes in a decade… how likely is he to re-commit… yet sentenced to ~ 900 years… when he turns 70, should he be released?  78?

          Or, could he be truly innocent, and/or wrongly accused?  Procedural errors?

          That is the kind of situation you should address, David… you champion articles as to factual innocence, wrongly accused, prosecutial excesses/errors/malfeasance…

          What about an opinion on Waller?  A man who is proposed to be sentenced to 900+ years… justice?

          Anything ‘restortative’ here?

          1. David Greenwald

            The problem in the case of Waller is that he escaped capture for a lengthy time. But does he need to die in jail long after a point where he is no longer a threat – I think there is a good argument to be made there, but it’s hard to argue he should not have any punishment.

        3. Alan Miller

          Though now that I think about it, there was kind of a hate-crime element from their leader, I guess.

          Kind of a hate crime element?  Manson had the victims killed in order to try and start a race war between the black and white races.  That’s another level hate crime above referring to a virus by its country of origin.


        4. Alan Miller

          For example, why does Leslie Von Houghton still need to be in prison in her 70s for a crime she committed at 19?

          Lulu held down Rosemary La Bianca while Tex and Katie stabbed her to death, then stabbed La Bianca a bunch of times herself.  That’s pretty much a horrific first degree murder.  Also, Sharon Tate’s sister doesn’t want any member of the Manson Family released, and I think victim’s family members (or should I just say victims, also) should have a pretty big say.

          (She’s not LWOP but that case came to might).

          Aren’t the altered death sentences for the Manson family members all LWOP?  Or did she get convicted after the change as her trial was delayed?

          1. David Greenwald

            No, she’s been granted parole by the board several times including this year and had the governor overrule it. Manson himself was eligible for parole but denied dozens of times.

        5. Alan Miller

          I was just saying why I thought maybe she shouldn’t, not what the gov or parole board said; what you said was also correct. I’d argue Tate’s sister’s determination to keep the murders alive for the governors has been a big factor perpetually for the governors – that’s why I said the family should have say; Debra Tate shouldn’t have to work this hard – IMO if the family of a murder victim says NO, that’s that. I know you won’t agree – you’ve made that crystal clear from past opinion pieces.

        6. Alan Miller

          58, no rapes in a decade…

          A decade is a flash, that isn’t an excuse.  What evidence is there that he’s reformed?  Maybe he has low T.  What if he discovers Viagra?

      2. Alan Miller

        A lot of people believe that there are some who need to be in prison for the rest of their lives, but most don’t,

        I honestly can’t tell if you mean ‘most people don’t believe people with life sentences need to be in prison for the rest of their lives’ or ‘most people with life sentences don’t need to be in prison for the rest of their lives’.


        1. David Greenwald

          Sorry about my sentence construction. I was trying to say that there is an increasing number of people who believe that people should have their cases evaluated for release at some point but I think they are still in the minority. I’ve come to oppose LWOP – those who need to remain in prison because they are a threat to public safety can be evaluated in real time.

  3. Bill Marshall

    Alan, there are worse things than LWOP… at least with LWOP, the convict is discharged after death.  In Sacto, a guy is due to be sentenced to ~ 900 years… over 400 of which are to be ‘in prision’ (ostensibly, beyond life)… bothers me, that the way the proposed sentencing is written, the CA taxpayers will be paying, for over 350 years, to keep his remains in prison!  He has a second sentence of over 400 years to life… at least that one won’t require using space for his remains, once he passes… [Nor-Cal rapist]

    1. Ron Oertel

      If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, folks receiving “extraordinary” sentences go right back into the clink, soon after their return.

      A similar thing occurs if you die owing a bunch of money.


    2. Eric Gelber

      Old joke:

      Judge: I hereby sentence you to 100 years in prison.

      Defendant: But, judge. I’m an old man. I can’t serve 100 years.

      Judge: Well, just do as many as you can.

  4. Alan Miller

    At a news conference held by Gascon on Friday, the mother of murder victim Joshua Rodriguez yelled, “My son can never speak again because he was murdered.  He was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. My son matters.”

    In response, Gascon was seen saying on video, “It’s unfortunate that some people do not have enough education to keep their mouth shut so we can talk.”

    Gascon later clarified he didn’t hear what was being said and didn’t know it was coming from the the family of a murder victim.  Yeah, great look.

    Just pointing out again that the wishes of the family of murder victim should matter if we’re going to be talking about changing LWOP.  The common argument of family members is, ‘why should the murderer be able to walk free when my family member cannot walk at all, because they are dead?’.  I agree with this sentiment.  It is beyond valid.  If the family wishes to forgive, I’d say the court should take that into consideration.

    1. David Greenwald

      The problem with the wishes of the family – sometimes families disagree and also there is a reason we have a system where the state rather than victim prosecute crimes.

      1. Alan Miller

        sometimes families disagree

        Yes, in which case you do like in probate without a will – those closest to the deceased by law get the money, or get to have the primary say in what whether an LWOP sentence is revised.

        there is a reason we have a system where the state rather than victim prosecute crimes.

        Not talking about prosecution of crimes – it’s about if the family feels safe, and/or are OK with, having someone who violently killed a family member, out of prison.

        It also may in some cases cut down on vigilante justice.  If someone killed a loved one of mine in a violent and/or premeditated manner, and they were let out of prison, I may be inclined to hunt them down and cave their skull in, punishment be dam*ed.  Just being honest, and I doubt I’m alone in that.

    2. David Greenwald

      I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the system has largely failed victims as much as it has failed the incarcerated. The response to a potential release shows that those wounds have not healed. And I would argue that is a failure. Throwing someone in a cage will not give people the closure that they seek.

      1. Alan Miller

        The response to a potential release shows that those wounds have not healed.

        Some wounds do not heal, even after death.

        Throwing someone in a cage will not give people the closure that they seek.

        That’s a pretty subjective point of view – to lay that value of yours upon others.  That’s why I believe the family – starting with the legally closest members – should have the primary choice if LWOP is dropped.  Some wish to forgive, some can forgive “if”, and some don’t want the person out ever or to ever forgive.  Forgiveness on some level may be healthy for the victim’s family, but for many that may not translate into letting the perp out of prison.  In an LWOP case, I believe the families should have a say.  I don’t think DG and I will ever see eye-to-eye on this.

        1. David Greenwald

          That’s probably true that we won’t ever see eye-to-eye on this, but I have done a lot of reading about VORP and Restorative Practices and believe we can do a lot better than we do about supporting victims and restoring offenders.

      1. Alan Miller


        After watching that, I’d say Gascon’s excuse that he didn’t hear the person and didn’t know they were a family of the victim was an OUTRIGHT LIE.  Gascon seems to be a real piece of work, and I hope the people of L.A. come to their senses and jettison his arse before that city collapses upon itself.

        1. Alan Miller

          A white male politician calling a hispanic/latino/lantinx woman “uneducated” — whether he knew who she was or not — is a really bad look – would undoubtedly be called out as racist were the speaker a Republican in this scenario.  That wasn’t even a micro-aggression — that was a mega-agression.  When I first read about this, I assumed it was a ‘hot mic’ scenario which would have been bad enough, but he was clearly calling out and demeaning this woman over the P.A.  If there is a God, Gascon will be fast gone.

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