Release Date: June 3, 2022
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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On June 2, California’s Second District Court of Appeal decided Nazir v. Superior Court, a case in which Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón sought to prevent a trial judge from keeping the sentencing enhancements charged against a habitual felon. The court unanimously rejected Gascón’s position on the main issue, whether the judge was required to dismiss charges allowed under state law at the request of the district attorney (Gascón).

The defendant in the case, Rehan Nazir was charged in May of 2020, with 35 felony counts including use of a firearm, false imprisonment, extortion, and burglary. Later that year, LA County voters replaced DA Jackie Lacey with George Gascón, who immediately announced that he would drop sentencing enhancements for any defendant facing trial. When Nazir’s case came before a judge, the deputy prosecuting him asked the judge to dismiss several counts that would increase the sentence upon conviction. The judge refused, noting that doing so was not in the interest of justice. Nazir took the case to the Court of Appeal. Because Gascón’s office would not defend the judge’s decision, the appeals court invited CJLF and the California District Attorneys Association to defend it. Among those joining on the criminal’s side were Gascón, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.

In a scholarly brief, CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton argued that state law and court precedent vests wide discretion with judges to dismiss or preserve charges in criminal cases and a local district attorney’s policy does not override it.

The court’s decision cited existing state precedent noting: “The imposition of sentence and the exercise of sentencing discretion are fundamentally and inherently judicial functions.”

The Court of Appeal did require the trial court to conduct a new hearing and consider a subsequent amendment to the statute and the district attorney’s policies. But the court made clear that the judge retains the discretion to keep the enhancements in Nazir’s case.

“This decision is a victory for Nazir’s victims and for judicial discretion. But the case itself is a disturbing example of where the Los Angeles District Attorney and California’s Attorney General stand when it comes to holding criminals accountable and protecting the public,” said Stapleton.

CJLF Associate Attorney Kymberlee Stapleton is available for comment
at (916) 446-0345