Criminal justice reformers nationwide rejoiced when L.A. County voters chose George Gascón to lead the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office, celebrating a big win in a years-long campaign to replace traditional law-and-order district attorneys with ones intent on change.
And just hours after being sworn in, Gascón delivered to his backers: He announced a slew of policy directives that barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, trying juveniles as adults, attending parole hearings or filing most sentencing enhancements that can increase a defendants’ prison term.
Nearly as quickly, the news instigated a brawl among California’s public prosecutors, with the organization representing 57 out of the state’s 58 district attorneys questioning both the legality and wisdom of Gascón’s mandates. Now, many of the state’s old guard of district attorneys are openly sparring with reformer colleagues in a power struggle that could shape criminal justice in California and other states.
“It’s a showdown of exactly how much power one branch of government has to override other branches,” said Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert, who opposes Gascón’s reforms as overreach that ignore victims’ rights. “We are elected to enforce the law, not make the law.”
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