By The Vanguard Staff
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In an amicus brief filed here this week, 68 current and former elected district attorneys and attorneys general from the U.S. urged the California Supreme Court to “affirm the constitutionally protected discretion of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón and other elected prosecutors to decide if and when to pursue sentencing enhancements.”
The group is asking for the state supreme court to reverse a Court of Appeals ruling that mandates prosecutors to “charge and prove all enhancements under the state’s three strikes law – whether or not the interests of justice support those extreme penalties – thereby undermining separation of powers and the ability of elected prosecutors to make decisions about how to allocate their offices’ limited resources.”
The signatories said that “If left as is, the lower court’s ruling would also override the will of voters who elected DA Gascón based on his commitment to shrink the footprint of the criminal legal system.”
DA Gascón complains he is being precluded from doing what he promised to do when elected, including “addressing three strikes sentencing enhancements that have fueled mass incarceration and racial disparities without improving community safety.”
The Los Angeles County Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) brought suit to stop Gascón from making changes, said the amicus signatories, who argued “the Court of Appeal’s ruling not only infringes on prosecutorial discretion but also threatens public safety by mandating the use of three strikes enhancements in all cases.”
They noted, “there is no research that shows sentencing enhancements or alternate penalty provisions improve public safety, but there is evidence that excessive sentences increase recidivism and therefore create more victims in the future.”
In their statement, they said, “Under DA Gascón’s directives ending the use of three strikes enhancements, people who cause harm are still held accountable but without wasting limited resources on pursuing lengthy, counterproductive sentences.”
They added, “the deeply troubling nature of efforts such as these to ‘harness the authority of the court system to prevent DA Gascón from making policy decisions with which the deputies do not agree,’ and urged the California Supreme Court to reject this attempt to disrupt purely prosecutorial functions.”
Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, said, “The people of Los Angeles chose George Gascón – and kept him in office through two well-funded recall attempts – to implement the evidence-backed reforms that will create lasting safety in their communities.”
“There is no evidence that extreme prison sentences make us safer, yet the lower court’s ruling would override separation of powers and mandate that prosecutors throughout the state commit to this failed tough-on-crime strategy.
“We are hopeful that California’s highest court will act to safeguard the discretion of elected prosecutors and the will of the people to bring about change in their communities,” add Krinsky, co-counsel on the brief and a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, as well as the former President of LA City’s Ethics Commission.
“We know of no other precedent or law in the country where prosecutors are forced to file and prove enhancements or special penalty provisions over their expressed objections. This intrusion would erode the separation of powers that is ‘essential to a well-functioning, healthy democracy’ and hinder the district attorney from effectively carrying out their constitutional duties,” argued the signatories to the amicus brief.
“A foundational tenet of the American criminal legal system is the independence of chief prosecutors, who are democratically elected to represent their community’s vision of safety, equity and fairness. Denying a prosecutor the ability to set officewide charging and sentencing policies would undermine decades of settled prosecutorial autonomy, supplant the will of voters and undermine public trust in the justice system,” said former Los Angeles County District Attorney Ira Reiner, who signed brief.
“The court must protect prosecutorial discretion as they have through decades of tough-on-crime policies and reject this attempt by unelected line prosecutors to usurp that authority. Like other communities nationwide that are retreating from the failed punitive policies that led to mass incarceration, Los Angeles elected a district attorney who embraces a new approach to justice, and the voters deserve to see that vision carried out,” said Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton.