Meet George Gascón, the Rogue Prosecutor Whose Policies Are Wreaking Havoc in Los Angeles

COMMENTARY Crime and Justice

Meet George Gascón, the Rogue Prosecutor Whose Policies Are Wreaking Havoc in Los Angeles

Feb 24th, 2021 12 min read

Commentary By

Charles "Cully" Stimson @cullystimson

Acting Chief of Staff and Senior Legal Fellow

Zack Smith @tzsmith

Legal Fellow, Meese Center

George Gascón, when he was a candidate for Los Angeles District Attorney, speaks during a drive-in election night watch party at the LA Zoo parking lot on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

His “reforms” wholesale eviscerate the entire architecture of the prosecutor’s office and radically distort what the prosecutor’s role is supposed to be.

Gascón is a rogue among rogues. And unfortunately, for crime victims and the citizens of Los Angeles County, he is making their communities less safe.

George Gascón’s policies are outrageous, dangerous, and pro-criminal. A movement to recall him has already begun.

This commentary is part of a series on the rogue prosecutors around the country who have been backed by liberal billionaires such as George Soros and Cari Tuna, and the threat those prosecutors pose to crime victims and others alike. Previous entries in the series focused on prosecutor in BaltimorePhiladelphiaChicagoBoston, and Fairfax County, Virginia, and potential U.S. attorneys in the Biden administration.

If you have followed our rogue prosecutor series, no doubt you were disturbed by Boston’s Rachael Rollins and her list of “15 crimes” you can now commit there, appalled at the anti-police policies of Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner, disgusted by the actions of Baltimore’s Marilyn Mosby, nauseated by the weekly death tolls caused by the apathy of Chicago’s Kim Foxx, and disconcerted by the predictable anti-victim policies of Fairfax’s Steve Descano.

The goal of each of these Soros-backed rogue prosecutors, as we wrote in our research paper on the topic, is to “fundamentally reverse engineer” the role of the prosecutor and to fundamentally transform our criminal justice system.

To that end, they have enacted policies that favor defendants, ignore drug laws, prohibit prosecutors from filing certain misdemeanors, and require prosecutors to cut sweetheart deals with many offenders. All of these actions have contributed to spikes in crime (including homicides) in many of their cities and have damaged their relationships with local police and victims’ rights groups. In the end, their policies push them further away from their supposed goal of seeking justice.

But while they have enacted radical policies, none has gone as far as George Gascón, the newly elected district attorney for Los Angeles County, California, who took office in December 2020.

His “reforms” wholesale eviscerate the entire architecture of the prosecutor’s office and radically distort what the prosecutor’s role is supposed to be in our criminal justice system.

Since Gascón has implemented so many radical policies so quickly, we can only highlight a few of them here, but we explore them in more depth and explain why they are so pernicious in this legal memo.

The breadth and scope of his radical policies, imposed by diktat his first day in office, are breathtaking, and undercut and undermine his deputies in the performance of their duties.

Written by or with the assistance of his “transition team” or “public policy advisors”—most of whom are criminal defense attorneys or radical pro-criminal activists—these new policies benefit criminals, including murderers, cop killers, child and adult rapists, and career felons, just to name a few.

Gascón and his ilk have clearly bought into the idea of Larry Krasner, the rogue Philadelphia district attorney, that prosecutors are really “public defender[s] with power.”

Unlike other elected rogue prosecutors, Gascón has applied his policies not only to future and incoming cases, but also to ongoing and allpast cases. Let that sink in.

To put it succinctly, Gascón is a rogue among rogues. And unfortunately, for crime victims and the citizens of Los Angeles County, he is making their communities less safe.

A Long List of Radical Policy Directives

What separates Gascón from all the rest of the elected rogue prosecutors is the breadth, scope, and immediate impact of his pro-defendant, anti-victim policies, which are contained within nine sweeping “special directives” to all Los Angeles deputy district attorneys, and were published one minute after he was sworn into office. They are so radical and so pernicious that a group representing his own deputies sued him, alleging that some of his policies forced them to violate the law and their ethical obligations. And a judge largely agreed.

Briefly, here’s what Gascón’s special directives do:

Pretrial Release

Special Directive 20-06 is entitled “Pretrial Release Policy.” A more accurate title would be: “Let Everyone Out of Jail and End Cash Bail.”

This is a top priority for the rogue prosecutor movement: eliminate cash bail.

Cash bail, according to the directive, creates a “two-tied system of justice,” and leads to “unnecessary incarceration” that harms “individuals, families and communities.” And even though Californians just voted to keep cash bail, Gascón rejects the will of the voters and will not follow the law.

Prosecutors are prohibited, regardless of a criminal’s long record, from requesting cash bail for any misdemeanor, non-serious felony (at least in Gascón’s eyes), or non-violent offense.

And get this: prosecutors are not allowed to oppose a defense counsel’s motion to remove or modify conditions of release.

To top it off, these policies apply retroactively, to anyone currently incarcerated in Los Angeles County on cash bail. And prosecutors are prohibited from objecting to their release.

Misdemeanor Case Management

Special Directive 20-07 is entitled “Misdemeanor Case Management.” A more accurate title would be: “Thirteen Crimes You Can Commit in Los Angeles Thanks to George Gascón.”

Dressed up in opaque language endemic to the rogue prosecutor movement, this directive implores the reader to “reimagine public safety,” which, as we discussed at length in our research, is code for ending public safety as we know it, favoring criminals, targeting police, and shunning victims.

Even though these 13 crimes are still illegal in California, Gascón, like Rollins in Boston and Descano in Fairfax County, decrees that these misdemeanor crimes “shall be declined or dismissed before arraignment and without conditions,” unless certain “exceptions” or other “factors” exist.

To make matters worse, the directive states that “these charges do not constitute an exhaustive list,” and each prosecutor in Gascón’s office is ordered to “exercise his discretion” to identify a charge that falls within “the spirit” of this directive and proceed accordingly.

There are hundreds of misdemeanors in the California penal code.

The 13 crimes the directive mentions by name that you can commit in Los Angeles as of Dec. 8, 2020, include all drug possession charges, prostitution-related offense, and resisting arrest.

For those misdemeanors not on the list of 13, pretrial diversion “shall be presumptively granted,” and the diversion shall presumptively be for six month, and no longer than 18 months.

Sentencing Enhancements and Allegations

Special Directive 20-08 is called “Sentencing Enhancements/Allegations.” A more accurate title would be: “Don’t Worry Violent Felons and Gang Members, You Won’t Go to Prison.”

This is the most controversial aspect of Gascón’s radical directives—the elimination of most sentencing enhancements, special circumstances, life without parole eligible sentences, and the death penalty.

Over the years, the California legislature has passed dozens of sentencing enhancements to crimes, and has laws protecting specific classes of individuals, such as children, women, the elderly, and others.

In 1994, the legislature passed the Three Strikes Law, which gave prosecutors the ability to seek a life sentence for anyone who committed a qualifying offense and had two qualifying prior convictions. The legislature also passed laws detailing the gruesome special circumstances of the most violent cases that would make a criminal eligible for life without parole or the death penalty.

Gascón’s directive prohibits prosecutors from filing sentence enhancements, sentence allegations, or Three Strikes in all cases, and forces them to withdraw the same from all pending cases.

Despite the fact that enhancements, special allegations, and Three Strikes keep violent, career felons off the streets for decades, thus protecting society from the worst of the worst, Special Directive 20-08 undercuts the California legislature’s laws, and outright bans their use.

This has affected hundreds of cases, including a case where a father decapitated his two young children, and a case where another criminal attempted to assassinate two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies by shooting them in the face as they sat in their patrol car. In both of those cases, if convicted, the defendants can walk out of prison after only 20 years.

Given the fact that there are more than 100 sentencing enhancements, allegations, and special circumstance laws in California, the vast majority of eligible criminals will no longer be held to account under the full force of the law as passed by the California legislature, and the citizens of Los Angeles will suffer as a result.

Of course, these involve the very policies that the judge found unlawful. Gascón has issued a revised special directive, which itself may be legally suspect, while he appeals the trial court judge’s order.

Youth Justice

Special Directive 20-09 is entitled “Youth Justice.” A more accurate title would be: “Violent Teens Don’t Go to Jail Ever” or “The Gang Improvement and Recruiting Act,” as the policy creates incentives for gangs to enlist even more youth under 18 years old to commit even more violent crimes.

This directive has a simple goal: preventing any person under the age of 18 from being prosecuted in adult court, period.

That means that a 6-foot-3, 210-pound gang member who is 17 years old, who murders someone and later gets caught, is given an “adjudication” in juvenile court and can be set free after serving only a few years in prison. This creates a perverse incentive for gangs to step up their ongoing recruiting efforts to youth to carry out murders and other crimes.

Under this new directive, all pending motions to transfer youth to adult court must now be withdrawn.

Furthermore, all youth accused of misdemeanors will no longer be prosecuted except in rare cases

For youth who are illegal aliens, prosecutors “shall seek to avoid immigration consequences,” and cannot object when defense attorneys seek to seal the record, virtually ensuring that no illegal alien criminal will get deported from Los Angeles, and no one will be able to learn about their crimes because their records will be sealed.

Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit

Special Directive 20-10 is called the “Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit.” It should be called: “Unwind All Prior Convictions by Our Office Unit.”

The Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit’s mission is to “ensure that justice is done in every case filed in the unit.” The unit is charged to look for all cases of “injustice,” including “racial injustice,” regardless if there were any constitutional violations.

According to the special directive, “[The Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit] shall not, as a policy, defend every conviction or raise every conceivable procedural challenge with equal fervor.”

So after line prosecutors engage in pre-trial litigation for weeks or months, disclose the information to defense counsel that is required by law, go to trial, and earn a conviction, lawyers in their own office now have marching orders not to defend the conviction, look for “racial injustice” (at least in Gascón’s eyes), and “remedy” the situation by moving to vacate the conviction, agree to a re-trial, or seeking some other pro-defendant scheme.

The impact of this policy change will likely become clear in the months and years to come, as hundreds, and possibly thousands, of criminal convictions are reversed by the attorneys in the Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit.

Death Penalty Policy

Special Directive 20-11 is entitled “Death Penalty Policy.” It should be called the “No Death Penalty Ever Policy.”

Like any policy document from a public defender office, this directive states that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case.” This, despite the fact that the California legislature and California voters authorized the death penalty for defendants convicted of qualifying offenses. Nearly all death penalty law in California is by voter initiative, and every time California voters have had the opportunity to vote on the death penalty, they chose to keep it.

This directive prohibits prosecutors from seeking the death penalty in all cases, including pending cases.

Prosecutors are also required under this directive to review all prior death sentences handed down in Los Angeles County with “the goal of removing the death sentence.” To be clear, this includes serial killers like Chester Turner, who was convicted of raping and murdering 10 women in Los Angeles. He also killed one of his victim’s unborn baby, and was subsequently convicted in 2014 of four additional killings.

Victim Services

Special Directive 20-12 is entitled Victim Services. It should be called: “We Don’t Care About Victims.”

Not surprisingly, this directive is the shortest in length, coming in at less than two pages.

The only new policy with respect to “victims” is that it directs the victim’s services’ section of the office to contact families of individuals killed by police and provide “support services including funeral, burial and mental health services immediately following the death regardless of the state of the investigation or charging decision.”

In other words, if a police officer is attacked by an armed violent felon who shoots at the police officer, and the police officer fires back in self-defense and kills the assailant, the district attorney’s office will now be required to help the deceased felon’s family pay for the funeral, at taxpayer expense. And here is the kicker: this is required “regardless of the state of the investigation or charging decision.”

Conviction Integrity Unit

Special Directive 20-13 is entitled the “Conviction Integrity Unit.” It should be called the “Public Defender’s Office Within the District Attorney’s Office” or the “Fox Guarding the Henhouse Unit” or the “Unwind Most Convictions Unit.”

The directive lays out three criteria to review cases, but the Conviction Integrity Unit reserves the right to review any case in the “interest of justice” (at least in Gascón’s eyes).

One of the factors that triggers the “interest of justice” exception is a case where a prosecution or conviction was “tainted by racial discrimination,” even if a court previously rejected a defendant’s claim of racial discrimination.

And who gets to decide if there is evidence of such taint? Hand-selected rogue prosecutors in the Conviction Integrity Unit.

Resentencing

Special Directive 20-14 is entitled “Resentencing.” One of the most dangerous and irresponsible of Gascón’s directives, it should be called “We Love Murderers” or “15 Years Is The Most Time You’ll Ever Serve” or “We Stand With Criminals.”

This directive has several disturbing edicts.

First, prosecutors are required to “reevaluate and consider for resentencing people who have already served 15 years in prison.” No other rogue prosecutor has gone this far, and for good reason.

Second, for pending cases that have sentence enhancements, prosecutors are required to “join in the Defendant’s motion to strike all alleged sentence enhancements.”

In all cases where a defendant is eligible for resentencing or “recall of a sentence” (resentencing, if specified conditions are met), prosecutors are prohibited from opposing the resentencing or sentence recall.

This includes those who have been convicted of certain murder offenses.

The “relief” that will most likely result from Gascón’s resentencing policy will be a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Perhaps the most radical aspect of this directive, and the one that has prosecutors, police, and victims’ rights’ groups up in arms, is the establishment of the Resentencing Unit. This unit is charged with conducting a “comprehensive review” of cases where a defendant received a sentence that is “inconsistent” with the office’s new policies.

The directive also benefits, of all people, criminals sentenced to life without parole. In language that only a criminal defense attorney could write, the directive states that prosecutors not only are prohibited from attending parole hearing, but are required to support—in writing—parole for any thug who has served his mandatory minimum period of incarceration. The Manson family members and Sirhan Sirhan would have loved this.

Of course, several aspects of this directive are in flux at the moment as Gascón appeals the injunction issued by the California trial court, but he is still seeking to implement these policies, in full, as soon as possible.

Gascón is the Gold Standard for Rogue Prosecutors

George Gascón’s policies are outrageous, dangerous, and pro-criminal. A movement to recall him has already begun.

And to think, Gascón has only been in office for a short period of time.

Regardless of whether George Gascón remains in office or is recalled, he has put into place the most radical, pro-criminal, anti-prosecution policies imaginable (or, at least, to date). He is, in a twisted way, the gold standard for rogue prosecutors.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.