The inmates are now running the asylum known as Los Angeles County. That’s the only possible conclusion to draw after reading newly-minted District Attorney George Gascon’s introductory letter to his staff and the nine Special Directives he issued today.
Even law-and-order Californians (yes, they exist, and in larger numbers than you’d think), who are used to taking a deep breath and muttering profanities when their elected officials do something stupid, are flabbergasted by the details of Gascon’s policies, the generalities of which I covered earlier today.
Gascon’s introductory letter sets the tone, including a new mission statement:
“The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office will advance an effective, ethical and racially equitable system of justice that protects the community, restores victims of crime, and honors the rights of the accused. We are a learning organization that believes in reduced incarceration and punishment except in circumstances in which it is proportional, in the community’s interest, and serves a rehabilitative or restorative purpose.”
After stressing that he seeks a “free exchange of ideas” in the office, he announced an “optional reading list.”
For those interested, I wanted to offer an optional reading list that I believe provides insight into my approach. It’s not a complete list but the following are books I believe to be particularly helpful and compelling:
- “Charged.” Written by Emily Bazalon. Discusses the role of prosecutors in relation to mass incarceration, and where we go from here.
- “Punishment Without Crime.” Written by Alexandra Natapoff. Highlights ways in which the misdemeanor system perpetuates an unequal justice system.
- “Bleeding Out.” Written by Thomas Abt. Discusses the seriousness of urban violence, what we are able to do about it, and why we must.
- “Just Mercy.” Written by Bryan Stevenson. The most famous book on this list, one that tells the intimate story of a wrongful conviction, and one man’s resolve to fight the case.
- “Bedlam.” By Kenneth Paul Rosenberg. Traces the decline of State Mental Institutions and the disastrous impact on the modern criminal justice system.
The Special Directives Gascon instituted cover the same broad areas referenced in my earlier piece: youth justice, death penalty, charge enhancements, misdemeanor crimes, pre-trial release/bail, resentencing, victim services, conviction integrity, and the Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit. Each Special Directive is linked so you can read them in their entirety (and trust me, you’ll need a strong beverage or a punching bag to get through them), but I’ll highlight some of the more terrible portions.
First, with regard to all of the policy changes announced today, Deputy District Attorneys are to amend ALL pending cases to conform with the new policy. This will have immediate and massive negative effects on public safety.
- All individuals shall receive a presumption of own recognizance release without conditions. Conditions of release may only be considered when necessary to ensure public safety or return to court.
- When cash bail is being requested under the limited circumstances delineated in this memo (felony sexual assault, violent felonies), DDAs shall recommend cash bail amounts that are aligned with the accused’s ability to pay.
- DDAs shall not object to the release of anyone currently incarcerated in Los Angeles County on cash bail who would be eligible for release under the policies outlined in this memo.
So, if someone violently rapes someone else but is homeless, is a $20 cash bail aligned with their ability to pay? This is madness!
Certain misdemeanors are to be “declined or dismissed before arraignment and without conditions unless ‘exceptions’ or ‘factors for consideration’ exist,” including:
- Trespass – Penal Code § 602(a)-(y)
- Disturbing The Peace – Penal Code § 415(1)-(3)
- Driving Without A Valid License – Vehicle Code § 12500(a)-(e)
- Driving On A Suspended License – Vehicle Code § 14601.1(a)
- Criminal Threats – Penal Code § 422Drug & Paraphernalia Possession – Health & Safety Code §§ 11350, 11357, 11364, & 11377
- Minor in Possession of Alcohol – Business & Professions § 25662(a)
- Drinking in Public – Los Angeles County Municipal Code §13.18.010
- Under the Influence of Controlled Substance – Health & Safety Code § 11550
- Public Intoxication – Penal Code § 647(f)
- Loitering – Penal Code § 647(b),(c), (d), (e)
- Loitering To Commit Prostitution – Penal Code § 653.22(a)(1)
- Resisting Arrest – Penal Code § 148(a)
Certainly some of these are misdemeanors where a prosecutor should have the discretion to dismiss the charge or decline to prosecute based on the specific circumstances of that case, but to have a blanket prohibition on prosecution is counterproductive and also makes the city even less desirable for law-abiding people. If police and criminals know that loitering and trespassing won’t be prosecuted, have fun trying to patronize a business without being accosted by panhandlers or worse.
- Violations of bail or O.R. release (PC § 12022.1) shall not be filed as part of any new offense
- If the charged offense is probation-eligible, probation shall be the presumptive offer absent extraordinary circumstances warranting a state prison commitment.
- Pursuant to PC § 1170(d)(1), if a defendant was sentenced within 120 days of December 8, 2020 they shall be eligible for resentencing under these provisions. DDAs are instructed to not oppose defense counsel’s request for resentencing in accordance with these guidelines.
- Crimes involving property damage or minor altercations with group home (STRTP) staff, foster parents, and/or other youth shall not be charged when the youth’s behaviors can reasonably be related to the child’s mental health or trauma history.
- We will decline charges for property damage or minor altercations with members of the youth’s household when the family can be better served by DCFS,
- We will avoid labeling normative adolescent behavior as a sex offense and instead collaborate with appropriate partners to provide effective interventions
Oh, yes, Los Angeles County DCFS has been a MODEL organization in effecting positive change for its clients. That’s sarcasm.
- BVS shall not require cooperation as a condition of offering services.
- BVS will also contact the families of individuals killed by police and provide support services including funeral, burial and mental health services immediately following the death regardless of the state of the investigation or charging decision.
Obviously a victim may need services even if they eventually end up not cooperating with the prosecution of their attacker; that’s what social services are for. And, there are so many problems with the policy in the second bullet point that it’s worthy of entirely separate post.
If you live in Los Angeles County, I’d advise leaving. If you’re an investor, wait six to nine months and you can scoop up residential and commercial property for a song.