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Progressive L.A. District Attorney Facing Roadblocks

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The progress that newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón was elected to make is facing obstacles, including a lawsuit filed by his own prosecutors.

Speaker 1: 00:00 California's criminal justice reform movement is facing a backlash and the conflict is playing out in the Los Angeles district attorney's office, newly elected da George gas cone says he will appeal a judge's ruling, stopping him from banning the use of sentence enhancements. Those enhancements can add years to a criminal conviction because of certain aspects of the crime or because of previous felonies. It was gas cones, own prosecutors who sued to stop his reform and district attorneys across the state, including San Diego summer. Stephan are speaking out against gas cones, sweeping reforms. Joining me is Anita [inaudible] reporter for the Los Angeles times. Anita,

Speaker 2: 00:43 Welcome. Thanks for having me on what did the judge rule

Speaker 1: 00:47 Against gas scone? Doesn't he have prosecutorial discretion on asking for sentence enhancements?

Speaker 2: 00:54 Well, he does, and prosecutors carry a great deal of power. What this decision is referring to is cases that have already been filed in Los Angeles courts and the ability to go back and change how those were filed. So this is actually a more limited ruling than it appears on the surface. Yes.

Speaker 1: 01:16 Ordered not to seek sentencing enhancements is what got San Diego da summer Stephan to reclaim jurisdiction in one case involving an alleged crime spree. Can you tell us about,

Speaker 2: 01:27 Well, you know, she is not alone. There's also a case up in Northern California where the da felt that guest's gone was not going to be appropriately punitive in his recommendations for how the charges went. And so in the, in the case in San Diego, she simply decided to take back jurisdiction of that case to ensure that it was prosecuted in the way that she felt comfortable with. And it's interesting, you are seeing DAS for the first time that I've ever heard of in California, uh, having that conversation amongst themselves and amongst law enforcements about which jurisdiction when there is an option they want to file in

Speaker 1: 02:07 Other reforms besides sentencing enhancements has gas cone introduced.

Speaker 2: 02:11 Well, he, uh, you know, does not believe in the death penalty and is not pursuing that in cases he's not charging juveniles as adults, which is, again, something we've seen in other progressive offices across the state. He has indicated that he's not going to have bail in almost all cases at all. And what does

Speaker 1: 02:32 Yes. Go and say, these reforms will accomplish,

Speaker 2: 02:36 This is a large conversation about criminal justice across the country. And what we've seen over decades is mass incarceration of black and Brown people that our prisons are filled with black and Brown people who have been treated more harshly by the system. Really, you don't have a lot of DAS from either side of this arguing that we have a problem with mass incarceration. It's how to fix that. And gas gone believes, uh, as do many prosecutors in his camp across the country that ultimately the fixes with prosecutors, that they have the power to simply stop putting black and Pete Brown people in jail. And so his reforms are really looking at it through that lens of racial equity that has led to mass incarceration

Speaker 1: 03:20 When it comes to something like ending cash bail, California voters just rejected that in a ballot measure last November, does gas cone have the power to order a reform like that?

Speaker 2: 03:31 Well, I mean, I think we're, we'll see a lot of dissent around it again, but technically yes, it's up to the prosecutor to decide whether to ask for bail or not, but there is a general sentiment in California that we do need to not keep people in jail, waiting for trial for months and months on, on small charges. So there that's one of the reforms where Gascon probably will have a little bit more support than other places, just because it is more widely accepted that we do have a problem with bail. Why

Speaker 1: 04:02 I hear some of gas, guns, own prosecutors working against these reforms?

Speaker 2: 04:07 Well, I think that depends on who you ask. So, you know, the official line is that these, uh, reforms go too far. There are an overreach of power where he's making law instead of enforcing law, um, and, uh, really overstepping his bounds and ignoring victim's rights is what you'll hear a lot. Uh, if you ask the other side of this, he's doing exactly what he was elected to do, and he's, he's doing it quickly. And, um, in an important way. So one tack that you will hear is that his prosecutors are simply standing up for the law and standing up for victims rights, but there's also a sense that he came into an office that already was uncertain about him. Didn't know a lot of what he was going to do and came down with a very heavy handed approach. He just said, this is what we're doing starting immediately. And there is a feeling that perhaps, you know, he could have moved slower, brought more people on board with his thinking before making those. So I think it's probably a little bit of both. Um, and you'll, you'll see this continue to go on. I don't think there's an easy resolution,

Speaker 1: 05:11 As you said. Uh, the San Diego da summer Stephan is just one of many district attorneys who oppose many of gas scones reforms is that kind of friction between jurisdictions unusual.

Speaker 2: 05:25 The friction itself is not unusual. The public nature of it is shocking. I cannot remember a time when I have heard a elected official elected DA's or elected go after another elected official in a different jurisdiction. So to have this fight break out between California's DAS in public is, is pretty shocking.

Speaker 1: 05:48 I've been speaking with reporter Anita Shabrea with the Los Angeles times. Anita, thank you so much.

Speaker 2: 05:54 Thank you for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.