News & Analysis

Court Orders LA’s Gascon to Enforce California Laws

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón cannot bar prosecutors from seeking harsher sentencing under California’s ‘three-strikes’ law, according to a ruling from California’s Second District of Appeals.

The decision supports a preliminary injunction issued in 2021 by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant, who argued that Gascón’s ban contravenes state law and violates the rights of prosecutors.

“On the merits, we conclude the voters and the Legislature created a duty, enforceable in mandamus, that requires prosecutors to plead prior serious or violent felony convictions to ensure the alternative sentencing scheme created by the three strikes law applies to repeat offenders,” the ruling said. “The district attorney overstates his authority. He is an elected official who must comply with the law, not a sovereign with absolute, unreviewable discretion.”

California’s three strikes law was passed in 1994 in an effort to combat recidivism and requires defendants convicted of a felony with two or more felonies on their record to be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years to life in prison.

The injunction was the result of a lawsuit brought by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA), which represents about 800 prosecutors in Los Angeles County. The initial injunction was appealed, as Gascón argued the ADDA lacked the standing to bring the case, but the Appeals Court disagreed, noting that the ADDA is the bargaining unit for the union of prosecutors within the county who were directly affected by Gascon’s policy.

“There’s never been a case where a court had to tell a chief prosecutor that his job is to follow the law,” Eric Siddall, vice president of the ADDA, told Fox News. “Just because of the nature of his job, he doesn’t get to ignore or break the law.”

The court noted in their decision that the California State Constitution and its Supreme Court vest sole power in district attorneys to determine who to charge, what charges to pursue and how, and what penalties to seek.

“That power cannot be stripped from the district attorney by the Legislature, judiciary, or voter initiative without amending the California Constitution,” said the court.

Gascón seemed to zero in on that to argue that the ruling was ultimately a victory for his office.

“Today’s ruling maintains the district attorney’s discretion and authority as an elected constitutional officer,” the District Attorney’s Office said in an email. “The court affirmed his ability to pursue his policy goals in the furtherance of justice.”

The decision also comes during a widespread backlash against progressive policies from several California district attorneys considered soft on crime. Widespread dissatisfaction with skyrocketing crime rates has led to a potential recall election for Gascón, an effort that is overwhelmingly supported by members of the ADDA. If supporters are able to get 566,857 signatures by July 6th, 2022, the Gascón recall would be on the November ballot. As of May 13th, there were 450,000 signatures, which suggests the effort is likely to make it on the ballot. San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin is facing a similar recall election on June 7th, with current polling suggesting the embattled district attorney will be removed from office.