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Court Orders LA County DA Gascón to Enforce California’s Three-Strikes Law and Special Circumstances

A three-justice panel of the California Appeals Court ruled Thursday that LA County District Attorney George Gascón cannot order prosecutors to sidestep elements of the state’s three-strikes law that may increase prison terms when filing criminal charges, and cannot order prosecutors to drop or withdraw special circumstance allegations that could lead to sentences of life without the possibility of parole.

“We conclude the voters and the Legislature created a duty…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 Appeals Court said.

The opinion followed a ruling by an LA Superior Court judge last year who found Gascón had exceeded his authority when he ordered prosecutors to dismiss or ignore prior convictions in many cases where those priors would increase the sentence of a person convicted of a new crime.

The appeals opinion also said, however, that the three-strikes law does not require prosecutors to prove that those prior convictions, or strikes, are true, and said prosecutors could ask to eliminate or drop sentencing enhancements for reasons unrelated to an individual defendant or the evidence in a specific case.

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