New Los Angeles prosecutor ends cash bail for many offenses

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In this photo from the County of Los Angeles streaming video, incoming Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon speaks after he was is sworn in in downtown Los Angeles Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Gascon, who co-authored a 2014 ballot measure to reduce some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, has promised more reforms to keep low-level offenders, drug users, and those who are mentally ill out of jail and has said he won’t seek the death penalty. (County of Los Angeles via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — New Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, seeking to revamp the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office with progressive policies, said Monday after taking office that cash bail will be ended for many offenses and sentences in thousands of cases will be reevaluated.

Gascón, in remarks after taking his oath of office, took aim at his predecessors in recent decades — calling Los Angeles “a poster child for the failed tough-on-crime approach.”

“The status quo hasn’t made us safer,” he said during a live-streamed ceremony.

A former San Francisco district attorney and assistant Los Angeles police chief, Gascón has already drawn the ire of prosecutors in his own office, as well as members of the Los Angeles Police Department.

His first major meeting upon winning his race was with Black Lives Matter organizers, who were critical of outgoing District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

Gascón beat Lacey, the first woman and Black person to run the office, in a fraught election last month as part of a wave of progressive prosecutors elected nationwide. The position is among the most powerful in the state and nationwide.

Gascón also said his office would reevaluate and potentially resentence defendants who had been convicted with enhancements or California’s three-strike law, which requires state prison terms of 25 years to life. Gascón estimated such a move could affect at least 20,000 cases.

Gascón additionally vowed to stop charging juveniles as adults, cease using sentencing enhancements, prohibit prosecutors from seeking the death penalty — including withdrawing capital punishment filings in current prosecutions — and reopen at least four investigations of controversial shootings by police in which Lacey’s office had declined prosecutions.

The new district attorney said his prosecutors would no longer request cash bail for any misdemeanor crimes, as well as any felony offenses that are not serious and violent.

Defendants currently awaiting trial in jail “because they can’t afford to purchase their freedom” may request new court hearings to be released, Gascón said.

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the union that represents the office’s prosecutors, previously opposed much of Gascón’s platform during the campaign.

“The leadership has not reviewed the documents from the new DA, nor has the Board had an opportunity to discuss the proposals” the association said in a statement Monday.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which is for rank-and-file police officers and heavily supported Lacey, blasted Gascón new policies after his speech.

“As homicides, shooting victims and shots fired into occupied homes soar in Los Angeles, it’s disturbing that Gascon’s first act in office is to explore every avenue possible to release from jail those responsible for this bloodshed,” the union’s board of directors said in a statement Monday. “These victims and law-abiding residents lost a voice today while criminals and gang members gained an ally in the prosecutor’s office.”

The district attorney’s office will also work to divert people into behavioral health services if they have been arrested on low-level offenses related to poverty, addiction, mental illness and homelessness.

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