“You can’t just use the law to implement your personal world view of what society should look like,” said Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association of Assistant District Attorneys. “The idea of a man coming in and saying, ‘You are all wrong, and this is what the law should be,’ kind of goes against what our whole American justice system is. It is the antithesis of the rule of law. “
While Gascón’s victory marked the growing political viability of reformist prosecutors, the turbulence that followed illustrated the difficulty of turning campaign promises into action. His controversial decisions have divided California prosecutors: critics see dangerous and potentially illegal excesses, while his supporters see a leader following.
The widening of the battle provides a high-level microcosm for greater tensions rocking law enforcement in California and across the country. The result will have a huge impact on Los Angeles and send a message to prosecutors around the world. Once the pioneer of harsh sentences that led to an incarceration boom, Los Angeles is now at the heart of a struggle over criminal justice.
“He’s doing exactly what he said he was going to do during the campaign,” said transition spokesman Max Szabo. “There are certainly negative reactions, but we as a justice system cannot change course on the basis of these negative reactions and ignore what the general public has asked for.
Gascón’s election came after a year of racial justice activism, punctuated by protests on the streets of Los Angeles and Jackie Lacey’s outgoing husband showing a gun at Black Lives Matter activists outside the house by Lacey. His victory in November was a watershed moment for a progressive movement of prosecutors that grew stronger around America. The former San Francisco district attorney ousted Lacey by running on a pledge to reduce incarceration and harsh sentences, overcoming strong opposition from law enforcement in a race that garnered national attention as a indicator.
Prosecutors charged with carrying out Gascón’s orders in Los Angeles courtrooms have fought back. Their association went to court to claim that Gascón’s guidelines violate the law. Some dissidents object that Gascón has not tried cases in a courtroom and issues decrees that are disconnected from fieldwork.
Szabo dismissed the opponents’ claims as “false alarms” from enemies who “took it upon themselves to lie to the public to stir up fear and panic”. He compared them to climate change deniers.
“This is the first time that a Los Angeles County District Attorney has used data, science and research instead of fear and emotion to drive policy decisions,” Szabo said. “Improvements have never been shown to improve safety, but excessive penalties have been shown to exacerbate recidivism and therefore create more victims of crime in the future.”
Grassroots prosecutors have won a powerful ally with the California District Attorneys Association publicly supporting their challenge. It’s not unusual for California’s 58 elected district attorneys to have differences of opinion, and Gascón has already broken up with his counterparts when he was San Francisco’s chief prosecutor.
But it is extraordinary for the national association to so publicly repudiate a single member. El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, who heads the state group in his more rural and conservative county, said the rejection was deserved because Gascón ordered his subordinates to “violate the constitution of State”.
“The policies that George has now implemented through these guidelines are very different from what he did when he was in San Francisco,” Pierson said. “What has changed is that instead of behaving like he’s a prosecutor, George behaves essentially like he’s been anointed king of the Los Angeles County Criminal Courts and like he’s not was not bound by the other two branches of government.
Meanwhile, the San Diego district attorney regained jurisdiction over a brutal robbery frenzy and a double murder case after Gascón’s sentencing restrictions limited the sentences defendants could face. San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said in an interview that Gascón’s treatment of victims was “cruel,” and she said she would not grant joint jurisdiction over future cases “if I did not have Mr. Gascón’s assurance on respect for victims. rights and respect for the law. “
“These things are illegal, but they are also not a productive criminal justice reform because at the end of the day you don’t hold the offender accountable and you also damage the community,” Stephan said of the guidelines. of Gascón.
District attorneys representing Fresno and Sacramento went further, saying they would not share jurisdiction in any case with Gascón. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert accused Gascón in an interview of seeking “omnipotent power over three branches of government” with “these sweeping guidelines, many of which are unconstitutional and illegal.”