By Özge Terzioğlu
LOS ANGELES—New Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón continues to make big criminal justice reform waves just days after taking office.
This week he has directed all deputy district attorneys to immediately stop filing letters asking for the death penalty, ordering them to stop filing briefs seeking discovery, or making arguments in court that ask for the death penalty as a sentence.
Even cases charged with special circumstances will be processed as non-death penalty cases, and Gascón has ordered the Special Circumstances Committee to be permanently disbanded.
He also requested all deputy DAs to ask to continue cases, where a letter of intent to seek the death penalty has been filed or where the jury has decided on death, for 30 days in order to review the case.
Additionally, Gascón ordered the DA’s office to not seek execution dates for anyone sentenced for death. They will also refuse to defend existing death sentences while reviewing every case in LA County with a goal to remove the death penalty.
However, the DA’s office will defend “validly obtained convictions in all cases where the evidence supports the conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. If there are cases where the DA is not the counsel or co-counsel, the DA’s office will consult with the Attorney General to achieve these goals.
Gascón’s actions are in opposition to Los Angeles County history. The county has one of the biggest death rows in the nation. The racism behind death row is what Gascón said influenced his decision to implement this new policy, effective immediately.
While 59 percent of California’s death row inmates are people of color, 85 percent of LA County’s death row are people of color, revealing the huge bias in this county specifically.
Not only do state sanctioned killings not help to deter crime, but they are also a waste of taxpayer money, Gascón has stated. He notes that since 1978, California has spent more than $5 billion dollars on maintaining death row housing for about 712 people, prosecuting death penalty cases, and defending death judgments.
Instead of using taxpayer money on death row, Gascón advocates for directing that spending to programs that improve safety and quality of life. He cited a study that shows a majority of Angelitos agree.
Aside from death row being a waste of taxpayer money and not useful for deterring crime, Gascón also reasoned that there is always a huge risk of executing innocent people. From 1973 to 2004, one in 25 people in the United States who were sentenced to death were wrongly convicted, he said.
Comparing those statistics to LA County, Gascón estimated at the least, nine people on death row in LA are actually innocent, and that’s why Gascón said he is refusing to allow a policy that has a chance of executing innocent people.
Özge Terzioğlu is from San Diego and she is a sophomore at UC Berkeley majoring in Rhetoric and minoring in Turkish.
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