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New LA County DA Issues Major Enforcement Reforms

Assaf Gilead

New LA County DA Issues Major Enforcement Reforms

Criminal Law
| 5 min

When George Gascón was sworn as a Los Angeles County's District Attorney, he set about reforming the Californian county's criminal justice system immediately, announcing a series of reforms at his inauguration.

Gascón has been in law enforcement for 40 years, starting as a beat cop in South LA in the 1980s. He said his experiences had shaped his approach to law enforcement and the newly issued changes are the result.

Use of Force review 

In response to George Floyd's death and similar cases, Mr. Gascón has called for a Use of Force Review Board, which will consist of members of the public, civil rights attorneys, and policing experts. The board will review fatal use of force cases going back to 2012. He also promised to reopen four cases involving police shootings that his predecessor had decided not to prosecute.

The district attorney's office will also provide access to services available to other crime victims, to the families of those killed by police.

Abolishing money bail

In 2016, Gascón implemented the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), which assesses defendants and makes custodial decisions based on risk instead of how much money they have. The DA argued that statistics show defendants are twice as likely to perpetrate further crimes if released on money bail than those released due to low risk. 

Gascón said, "How much money you have in your bank account is a terrible proxy for how dangerous you are." All requests for money bail have now ceased.

Eliminating the death sentence

Effective immediately, the DA office will no longer seek the death penalty for any case. It will also cease defending any current sentences and will review all existing death penalty cases. Historically, Los Angeles County has been one of the most prolific for the death penalty. 

Gascón wants to end this, noting people of color make up to 85% of those receiving the death sentence. The new DA said, "it exemplifies how racism infects death penalty proceedings." He also added, "the death penalty is costly and takes funds away from programs that actually improve public safety, and retaining the death penalty when there is a significant risk that an innocent person will be executed is intolerable."

The end of sentencing enhancements 

Before Gascón took office, sentencing enhancements were increasingly seen as unnecessarily punitive and not particularly helpful in terms of law and order. Gascón saw them as a legacy of California's failed 'tough on crime' era. Recently, problems had been reported with LA police officers falsely identifying people as gang members, inputting that data into state databases, and then using that to impose enhanced sentences. Gascón wants this to stop.

In addition to ending sentencing enhancements, the district attorney's office will review thousands of cases where people had sentences enhanced and other policies that may lead to disproportionate sentencing.

These reviews may result in reduced sentences or even earlier release for many incarcerated individuals.

No more sentencing of juveniles as adults and a change in misdemeanor prosecutions

The practice of trying juveniles as adults has ended, and the DA has outlined numerous new policies designed to keep minors out of the juvenile justice system. 

There has also been the introduction of a new Misdemeanor Reform directive that recognizes misdemeanor convictions frequently and disproportionally impact those with mental issues, the homeless, and those suffering from substance abuse. The DA's office will be stopping prosecutions of first-time offenders for low-level, non-violent crimes.

George Gascón defends his new policies

The policies introduced by the newly sworn-in district attorney Gascón have been backed by the police reform movement. However, there has been opposition from prosecutors and police officers who are concerned there will be an increase in crime. The new policies  have created a division among LA district attorneys and raised public awareness of criminal law.

At his signing in, Gascón defended the changes stating, "I recognize those are big changes. But they are changes that will enable us actually to protect the truly vulnerable."

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