Gascón Backtracks on Life Sentences and Juvenile Justice

George Gascón at a candidate’s forum in February 2020

Los Angeles, CA – On Friday, the LA Times reported that memos issued by Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón indicated in a major shift that “prosecutors can now seek to try juveniles as adults and pursue life sentences against defendants in certain cases.”

In a tweet on Friday, Eric Siddall, vice president of the union representing line prosecutors said, “Over the past year, George Gascón and his policies have wreaked havoc on the criminal justice system and made all of us less safe.”

Meanwhile Ricardo Garcia, the chief public defender of Los Angeles County, continues to support the DA.

“I still believe in Gascon’s vision. The civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder demanded progressive leadership for justice reform and police accountability,” Garcia said.  “While we are yet to see solutions for the underlying issues that lead people to be involved in the criminal legal system, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, let’s not give up on the hope of building a better future.”

He added, “Until then, public defenders remain the unyielding defenders of the presumption of innocence.”

On Sunday, George Gascón put out a full statement on the policy adjustments.

District Attorney Gascón Issues Statement on Policy Adjustments

By George Gascón

I want to address some policy changes that we are making in our office, which made the news earlier this week. I want to reaffirm my commitment to the core values I expressed when I took office. We do not believe that children should be tried as adults. We should treat kids like kids and give them every opportunity to grow and change. We also do not believe people should be sentenced to death in prison. People change and evolve – most often, for the better.  For too long, our system operated without recognizing this fact, ignoring entirely the capacity people have for change. We must restore that underlying value into our justice system. While we maintain our commitment to these principles and will continue working to improve our system, there are some cases and situations that require a different response. We have made some adjustments to our policies to account for these exceptions.

Like every responsible office, we learn as we go, take feedback from the community, and make necessary adjustments based on our experiences and the complex nature of this work. That is the responsible way to govern. I have always been open to learning and growing in this work. When I started in policing 40 years ago, I believed that arresting and jailing people would bring us safety. However after several decades of work, it was clear to me that we needed a more nuanced approach. The same is true now. While I remain committed to the core values of our policies, I have seen a small number of cases that presented real challenges. As a result, we are making minor adjustments to our policies on juveniles and LWOP to allow for exceptions in the most extraordinary of cases.

Specifically, we learned a lot from the Hannah Tubbs case about the need for a policy safety valve. Rather than the usual case where a child is arrested close in time to their crime, police arrested Ms. Tubbs at 26 for a crime she committed as a juvenile. Ms. Tubbs had several charges in other counties after the juvenile offense but never received any services which both her past behavior and that subsequent to her arrest demonstrates she clearly needs. After her sentencing in our case, I became aware of extremely troubling statements she made about her case, the resolution of it and the young girl that she harmed.

Unfortunately, our juvenile system in its current iteration does not provide adequate support to help someone at 26 with this level of challenges except through the adult system. While for most people several years of jail time is adequate, it may not be for Ms. Tubbs. If we knew about her disregard for the harm she caused we would have handled this case differently. The complex issues and facts of her particular case were unusual, and I should have treated them that way. This change in policy will allow us the space to do that moving forward.

We have now implemented policies to create a different pathway for outlier cases, while simultaneously creating protections to prevent these exceptions from becoming the rule. Any time a prosecutor wants to deviate from our core principles, they must put a request in writing. That request will then go to a committee, staffed by my most trusted advisors, who must evaluate the case and approve any requests to pursue an exception. This process ensures that only in the rarest of cases, where our system has failed, will we diverge from our principles.

We do not always get it right, as no one can, but we do believe that our fundamental beliefs are the right ones. Kids should be treated like kids. People should be given an opportunity to grow and change. Victims and survivors should be given support, and we should always provide every opportunity for all people in the criminal legal system to receive what they need to heal.  We will continue to uphold these values.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Keith Olson

    The Ms. Tubbs case is coming back to slap DA Gascon in the face.  This is a major reason for Gascon now doing a reverse turn, he knows how bad this looks.

    Line prosecutors told The Times the turnabout was especially galling because the jail recordings have been known inside the district attorney’s office for at least a month and did not alter Gascón’s approach previously.
    “He knew Fox was going to run with those tapes. It was damage-control time,” said a frequent critic, Eric Siddall, a deputy district attorney who is vice president of the union representing line prosecutors.


    1. Keith Olson

      Everyone should read the LA Times article and the Ms. Tubbs conversation with her father transcript of the jail house conversation.

      “I’m gonna plead out to it, plead guilty,” Tubbs says in one recording. “They’re gonna stick me on probation, and it’s gonna be dropped, it’s gonna be done, I won’t have to register, won’t have to do nothing.

      “You won’t have to register?” her father asks on the other line later in the conversation.
      “I won’t have to do none of that,” Tubbs replies.
      “So what are they going to do to you then?”
      “Nothing,” Tubbs answers, then laughs.

      1. David Greenwald

        I think a more flexible approach is needed. I think too often cases that have no business being an adult case get filed there and that’s the problem Gascon was initially trying to solve. Unfortunately for the few cases like that, that approach is not the best and they need the ability to do more than the juvenile courts can do. One solution is to give the juvenile system more flexibility and allow the courts to evaluate whether an individual should be transferred adult court after the age of 25. It’s easy to mau mau this, but that’s how we got to this point.

          1. David Greenwald

            That’s a political question. From a policy stand point, it seems like a reasonable thing to do rather than dig in and not change the policies. I know there was some debate over when the recordings were found out, but they were definitely found out after the plea agreement was agreed to in November. I still think it should be rare, but there are enough examples that the option needs to be on the table.

  2. Keith Olson

    “Murder convict vows to get ‘woke’ LA County DA’s name tattooed on face”

    A Los Angeles gang member convicted of murder praised District Attorney George Gascón for his controversial criminal justice reforms that reduced the inmate’s charges — and vowed to get the embattled DA’s name tattooed on his face, a report said.
    Luis Angel Hernandez, who pleaded guilty to murder and personal use of a firearm for the 2018 killing of a marijuana delivery person, gushed about the Los Angeles County DA in a jailhouse phone call – the audio of which was obtained by Fox News.
    “I’m going to get that n—–’s name on my face. That’s a champ right there. F—in’ Gascón,” Hernandez, a member of the OTF gang, says in the call, according to the report.
    “He’s making historic changes for all of us, fool. I’m just grateful, fool. Like, I got good news off that s–t,” Hernandez says.
    “This s–t looking real good. Now we got a new DA in LA … so they’re going to drop a gang of, um, like my gun enhancement, my gang enhancement,” says Hernandez in the jailhouse call.

    “My gang enhancement is 10 years, fool, for being a gang member. And then the gun in the commission of a crime.”

    1. Keith Olson

      If Luis Angel Hernandez actually goes through with this the Recall Gascon campaign should get a photo of Gascon’s name tattooed on this guy’s face and use it for campaign ads.

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