Reversing course, L.A. County DA Gascón says he will issue sentencing enhancements in certain crimes

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Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced Friday his office will be seeking sentencing enhancements in certain crimes, reversing course on a controversial new policy issued immediately after being sworn in earlier this month.

The DA’s office will seek enhancements in hate crimes, crimes against children and the elderly and other crimes that “meet certain criteria,” Gascón said in a letter to the community.

He said he amended the policy following concerns raised by vulnerable victims, including groups that are targeted based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, nationally, religion, sexual orientation, gender or physical disability.

“I met with and heard from many of you, and while most have welcomed the reforms I have implemented, some have shared their concerns. Nearly all of the concerns I have heard center around my policy of ending all enhancements. To be responsive to your input I have decided to make some adjustments to my initial directives,” the letter reads.

A cornerstone of his sweeping changes to the top prosecutor’s office, Gascón said he still won’t be seeking sentencing enhancements based on gang affiliation and those based on the Three Strikes Law.

“I implemented this policy with no exceptions because enhancements have never been shown to enhance safety, but excessive sentences have been shown to increase recidivism and drive future victimization,” he explained in the letter. “Enhancements are also the primary driver of a system of mass incarceration that needlessly siphons billions into jails and prisons, and away from our communities and the investments victims of crime want us to make. Enhancements are also three times more likely to be applied to defendants who are African American or mentally ill.”

Other policy changes — including ending cash bail, and not allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty or to try juveniles as adults — were immediately met with criticism from prosecutors, judges and crime victims, the Los Angeles Times reported.

One of the DA’s staunchest critics, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, issued a statement regarding the reversal, saying in part that Gascon is “providing a MasterClass on the dangers of a politician running the DA’s office instead of an experienced prosecutor.”

“It took a national outcry for him to understand that child rapists, human traffickers, and perpetrators of violent hate crimes should spend some more time behind bars,” the statement reads. “Yet he’s still willing to go easy on gang members who terrorize our neighborhoods or criminals that shoot cops in the back of the head. He still doesn’t get that crime victims need an authentic voice for justice, not a politician that says one thing and does another, we have enough of those.”  

The reformist and former San Francisco DA beat incumbent Jackie Lacey — the county’s first black top prosecutor — in a heated election.

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