By Lauren Smith
LOS ANGELES – More than 65 current and formerly elected prosecutors from across the U.S. have filed an amicus brief in support of criminal justice reforms by newly-elected LA District Attorney George Gascón, in response to a lawsuit opposing the reforms by the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA).
In a battle of associations, the California District Attorneys Association announced last week that it will file a amicus brief in support of the lawsuit criticizing the DA’s new directives.
The brief supporting DA Gascón initially states that the previous DA implemented multiple tough-on-crime policies such as seeking harsher sentences. As a result of these policies, LA County’s prison incarceration rate is “well above the state average, and over five times as high as that of San Francisco.”
However, in 2020, LA voters elected Gascón on the promise that he would reform the LA criminal justice system. Some of the policies Gascón ran on include an end to the death penalty, the use of money bail, and curtailing lengthy prison sentences.
The amicus brief states that “there is evidence that excessive sentences increase recidivism and therefore create more victims in the future.”
With this is mind, DA Gascón implemented policy directives “that sought to curtail the use of several sentencing enhancements,” which are shown to have no public safety benefit and drain the city’s resources, according to the pleading.
In fact, the brief includes multiple studies and data points that show that sentence enhancements impact marginalized communities and people suffering from mental illnesses disproportionally to the rest of the population.
The brief goes on to state that the lawsuit has no legal standing as there is no case in California where the courts have agreed to override a prosecutor decision to not file charges or sentence enhancements.
One of the main arguments the brief uses is that DAs have prosecutorial discretion, meaning they can decide to file charges or sentence enhancements. However, if the courts agree to override those decisions, it sets a “dangerous precedent… to strip the elected District Attorney of the autonomy to make decisions around the safety and well-being of the community.”
Furthermore, the brief argues that the DA is elected by the people and is therefore “accountable to the people and community the serve.” The LA county voters chose to elect Gascón because he reflects “their vision for the justice system in their community.” If the public does not approve of the actions the DA is taking, they can and will vote him out of office.
The brief concludes by stating that the ADDA’s lawsuit asks the court to override what the voters want and “substitute the judgment of some unelected line prosecutors for than of an executive elected official.”
The pro-Gascón brief further points out that prosecutors have never asked the courts to interfere with decisions that result in higher prison and jail populations and “fuel tough on crime thinking and mass incarceration.”
For these reasons, the amicus brief is asking the court to preserve the “proper roles and responsibilities in the criminal legal system, both between the elected official and his deputies, and between the elected official and the judiciary.”
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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