Gascón backtracks on policies regarding minors and life sentences

Los Angeles County prosecutors can now seek to try minors as adults and pursue life sentences against defendants in some cases, according to memos released Friday by Dist. Atti. George Gascón, marking a major shift in his all-or-nothing positions on certain issues of criminal justice reform.

When he first took office in late 2020, Gascón made waves by immediately barring prosecutors from seeking the death penalty or life sentences without the possibility of parole, while also severely limiting how prosecutors could use sentencing improvements and ending the practice of trying minors as adults. .

While the measures were in line with the broader restorative justice platform on which Gascón ran, critics denounced the so-called “comprehensive” policies and demanded that he consider trying minors as adults or seeking life sentences when defendants are accused of particularly horrific conduct.

That moment came late Friday. Committees will be created to assess “extraordinary” cases where an accused’s conduct might require harsher penalties than those authorized by Gascón’s policies, according to documents reviewed by The Times.

In murder cases, this means prosecutors can now seek to file special circumstances allegations against a defendant in certain situations – such as the killing of an on-duty police officer or the killing of a witness – making them eligible for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole. In cases involving juvenile defendants, this could mean transferring their cases to adult court.

The filings will still need to be approved by each committee, which will include senior prosecutors and members of Gascón’s management team.

“The public prosecutor is firmly committed to his principles. One of those underlying principles is to constantly refine what we do so that we can continue to thoughtfully improve public safety,” Gascón special counsel Alex Bastian said in an email response to questions. on change. “This is what the DA has always done, and what he will continue to do. Now over a year into his tenure, he has listened to community members, victims and his colleagues . »

Earlier this week, Gascón announced a minor change to his policy on juvenile affairs and told The Times he was open to “evolving” his juvenile policy, but refrained from saying it would expand proceedings against minors as adults.

The move comes as Gascón faces growing criticism over his handling of juvenile affairs and political pressure from a second attempt to recall him from office.

In January, a 26-year-old transgender woman was allowed to plead guilty in juvenile court to sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl because the crime was committed when the accused was a teenager. The result drew widespread condemnation.

The committee seeking to recall Gascón from office has already raised $1.8 million, more than all of the money pooled to support a failed recall campaign last year. The union representing rank-and-file prosecutors is also expected to vote to support the recall early next week.

Former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, one of Gascón’s only supporters among police chiefs, rescinded his support for the district attorney last week.

Gascón has also become something of a political football in the Los Angeles mayoral race: Councilman Joe Buscaino announced his support for the recall late last month, and billionaire Rick Caruso also threw barbs at the AD since the announcement of his candidacy.

Los Angeles Times

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