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Making a Splash

There’s a new district attorney in Los Angeles, you may have heard, and he’s making some changes.

When George Gascon took the oath of office, he issued nine policy directives that will change the way his office carries out its important mission. We summarize each of them below.

Bail and pretrial release. The office will no longer seek cash bail for misdemeanors or non-serious, non-violent felonies. In all cases, the presumption will be to release people without conditions unless some conditions are necessary to ensure public safety or the person’s return to court. If so, the office will consider less-restrictive conditions before more-restrictive ones. Only if it concludes that no condition or combination of conditions will ensure public safety or your return to court may it move to keep you in jail until trial.

Youth and juvenile justice. The office will no longer move to prosecute children in adult court. And it will no longer prosecute them at all for misdemeanors or low-level felonies if it can direct them to community-based programs instead. Basically, its approach will strive to keep youth out of the system when possible and, when not possible, to apply the lightest touch necessary for public safety.

More services for victims. The office will contact all victims of violent crime within 24 hours of notification and provide enhanced support to them and their families. Among other things, it will create an emergency fund to provide immediate help with expenses like relocation and essential food, shelter, or clothing. In general, it will pursue a parallel path that prosecutes crime while helping victims become survivors.

Petty charging decisions. The office will generally not charge low-level misdemeanors that stem from poverty, addiction, mental illness, or homelessness. Instead, it will seek to direct such cases to public-health services.

Felony charging decisions. The office will no longer push for many sentencing enhancements that add many years or decades to a sentence based on prior convictions, and it will no longer use the three-strikes law as before. When a case is eligible for probation then probation will be the presumptive offer unless extraordinary circumstances justify a prison sentence.

Resentencing in prior cases. The office will review existing convictions to ensure that sentences conform to the new charging policies. In doing so, it will prioritize the cases of people who have already served fifteen years or more in prison, who are sixty years of age or older, who were minors prosecuted as adults, who are especially vulnerable to Covid-19, or whom the prison has recommended for resentencing.

The great writ of habeas corpus. The office will commit to review all post-conviction claims in good faith. It will not reflexively oppose such claims just to defend a conviction. And when its work reveals injustice, it will promptly pursue remedies to redress the wrong.

The conviction-integrity unit. The unit will report directly to the district attorney or his designee. It will expand its criteria for eligibility in order to review all non-frivolous claims of innocence or wrongful conviction. It will work collaboratively with the defense bar to serve the interests of justice.

The death penalty. The office will no longer seek the death penalty in any case.

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