Release Date: December 30, 2020
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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In a petition filed in Los Angeles Superior Court today, the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys, on behalf of its members, is seeking a writ of mandate prohibiting enforcement of District Attorney George Gascón’s “special directives” to the extent that they force deputies to violate state laws. The part at issue concerns laws that require increased sentences for habitual criminals who commit serious and violent crimes.

The Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which has reviewed the petition, noted that Gascón’s special directives eliminate sentence increases (enhancements) for repeat violent felons who use firearms, who are gang members, and who commit multiple crimes. Ignoring the prior offenses, as the directive requires, would allow a violent criminal with multiple prior felony convictions to receive the same sentence as a first-time offender. Specifically the petition states that the special directives require deputies to violate the requirements of California’s Proposition 184, the Three Strikes initiative, and the requirement to exercise discretion in the enforcement of other laws.

The petition argues that Gascón’s special directives force Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys to “face the unconscionable dilemma that pits their legal and ethical responsibilities against the commands of the current office holder leading Respondent Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. Their intolerable choice is to follow legal and ethical obligations and risk termination of employment, on the one hand, or follow Respondent Gascón’s edict, and thereby violate California law and ethics, and risk disciplinary action by the California State Bar.”

Specifically, the Three Strikes Law requires district attorneys to allege prior convictions in every case where they apply under the law. The authority to dismiss a strike in the interests of justice is given to the trial judge, not the district attorney. See Penal Code § 1170.12(d)(1). District Attorney Gascón’s directive to the contrary is plainly illegal on the face of the law. The law has been upheld as constitutional in multiple cases.

More generally, for other enhancements such as those in the 1982 Victims’ Bill of Rights, the law gives district attorneys discretion on whether to allege them based on the facts of particular cases. The petition argues that the law does not give district attorneys authority to nullify a law with a blanket refusal to ever allege an enhancement. That is an abdication of discretion rather than an exercise of it.

“We commend the action of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys to protect the public from these harmful and misguided directives to the extent possible,” said CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger. “While the District Attorney does have broad discretion in charging, Mr. Gascón’s directives go far beyond the limits of his office.”

Foundation Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.