Tuesday, December 8, 2020
Newly sworn District Attorney for Los Angeles, George Gascón, used his inaugural address to introduce himself as a transformation agent and uncover profound changes in the criminal justice system of California’s most populous district.
Gascón is a former Los Angeles Police Department officer who now heads the country’s largest prosecutor’s office. In a series of tweets, he said the experience he had as a young officer 40 years ago stayed with him. They also shaped his approach to criminal justice reform.
Among the changes, many of which went into effect Tuesday, include ending the death penalty, ending most uses of bail for non-serious or non-violent crimes, and prioritizing cases for re-sentencing inmates serving excessive sentences.
“I can see that these are big changes,” said the Democrat Gascón. “But it is changes that enable us to actually protect the really vulnerable.”
He also called for a review body for the use of force. Gascón said the review panel will include civil rights lawyers, community members and police experts to review the cases of fatal use of force by law enforcement agencies that date back to 2012.
During his remarks on Monday, videotaped amid the spate of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County and across the state, Gascón said the Minneapolis police murder of a black on Memorial Day exposed the injustices of what he did called the “two” tier justice system. “
“The murder of George Floyd that summer was a terrible reminder that too often our profession has not lived up to the same standards we impose on the communities we are supposed to protect and protect,” he said.
“It got a generation to stand up and speak out against a system that the public largely sees as a two-tier system: one for cops and prosecutors and one for everyone else.”
As the Los Angeles Times points out, Gascón’s policies are seen by many as a departure from his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, who critics described as “an overly punitive district attorney.”
Gascón is one of several newly elected prosecutors across the country trying to deliver on campaign pledges to make radical changes to local justice systems.
The LAist reports that Gascón is against much of his agenda, namely his own prosecutors and law enforcement officers he has to work with, as well as a surge in violent crime in LA County.
In what the publication describes as “perhaps his boldest move,” he calls for a ban on sentence amendments, a move that could result in the release of thousands of inmates.
Finding longer sentences for defendants with previous criminal convictions or for those suspected of being in a gang had become a common practice among LA prosecutors.
On bail, Gascón said by January 1 that his office would reveal detailed plans to end the bail system “in its entirety”.
Under a special policy that will come into effect on Tuesday, prosecutors will now be instructed to ask the court for the defendant’s release. Bail can still be considered on prosecution if the accused is charged with a violent crime or sexual assault.
He said the cash bail disproportionately affects minority and low-income defendants.
“”[The new policy] will reinvigorate the presumption of innocence in Los Angeles County, “he said.
On election day last month, California voters rejected Proposition 25, which sought to end the state’s bail system.
Prosecutors will also stop applying for the death penalty in Los Angeles County, and current death sentence cases are being reviewed with the aim of eliminating the death penalty.
“The reality is that the death penalty does not make us safer, is racist, morally unsustainable, irreversible and expensive and is off the table in LA County as of today,” said Gascón.
“And it’s not just off the table, I’m determined to re-sentence those currently on death row to life imprisonment.”
Copyright 2020 NPR. Further information is available at https://www.npr.org.
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