Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued a preliminary injunction Monday barring District Attorney George Gascón from refusing to prosecute California’s Three Strikes law.
Gascón was hit with a lawsuit in December from a union representing deputy district attorneys in Gascón’s office who claimed that if they followed his new policies they would violate California’s “Three Strikes” law.
Chalfant agreed with the union, ruling bypassing the law was itself “unlawful.”
“The district attorney’s disregard of the Three Strikes ‘plead and prove’ requirement is unlawful, as is requiring deputy district attorneys to seek dismissal of pending sentencing enhancements without a lawful basis,” the ruling reads.
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) February 8, 2021
An enhancement would apply in cases where a defendant commits a crime with an aggravated factor, like committing a robbery with a gun. Under California’s Three Strikes Law if someone is convicted of two criminal charges an enhancement can add on additional years to their sentence.
“The District Attorney has abandoned the Three Strikes law through the Special Directives that prevent deputy district attorneys from pleading and proving strike priors as required by section 667 (f)(1). As demonstrated by the plain language of the Three Strikes law and case law, this direction is unlawful,” Chalfant wrote.
Chalfant, however, did say Gascón can bar prosecutors from seeking sentencing enhancements in future cases.
Chalfant also noted that the special directive cannot legally force a county prosecutor to dismiss a strike “based on antipathy to the Three Strikes law.”
Chalfant also restricted Gascón from dismissing special circumstance allegations without legal grounds.
Upon taking office, Gascón issued a directive that barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty or filing sentencing enhancements that would increase a person’s prison term.
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County (ADDA) hailed the ruling.
“This decision was based on what the law is and not what an officeholder thinks it should be,” the ADDA said.
Gascón criticized the ruling in a statement posted to Twitter. (RELATED: Man Convicted Of Double-Murder Approved For Parole Eligibility, Prosecutors Barred From Hearing Under LA’s New Laws)
“On November 3, more than 2 million people in Los Angeles County voted for a system of justice based on science and data, not fear and emotion. Nevertheless, I never had any illusions as to the difficulty and challenges associated with reforming a dated institution steeped in systemic racism,” he said, noting that he will be appealing the ruling.
We can no longer afford – morally, socially or economically – to justify tough-on-crime policies in the name of victims when a majority of the survivor community supports rehabilitation over excessive sentences. (8/9)
— George Gascón (@LADAOffice) February 9, 2021
“We can no longer afford– morally, socially or economically– to justify tough-on-crime policies in the name of victims when a majority of the survivor community supports rehabilitation over excessive sentences. The long-term health and safety of our community depend on it.”
Gascón came under fire in December after he sought to dismiss enhancements and special circumstances against Rhett Nelson, who is accused of fatally shooting a Los Angeles County deputy, according to Fox News. Nelson also allegedly shot and killed a professional skateboarder from Russia on the same day he killed Deputy WHO Solano, Fox News reported.
Nelson had a series of special circumstance allegations like using a handgun in the commission of crimes, firing the weapon from a vehicle, and allegedly committing multiple murders, according to Fox News.
The special circumstances could result in Nelson facing a maximum life sentence without parole, Fox 11 reported. If the circumstances were dropped, Nelson could potentially be released on parole one day. A member of Gascón’s transition team told Fox 11 that he wanted to drop the special circumstances because “there is a possibility that decades from now, the parole board could determine he’s been rehabilitated.”