Fair sentencing is ‘racist,’ Los Angeles district attorney says

Fair sentencing is ‘racist,’ Los Angeles district attorney says
George Gascón (Image: YouTube screen grab)

Punishment should fit the crime, not ignore things that make a crime worse or more serious. Criminals’ punishment should be proportional to their offense, according to Supreme Court rulings.

That’s why sentencing enhancements exist for crimes committed by repeat offenders, or those who commit “great bodily injury.” But Los Angeles County’s progressive district attorney opposes them.

He is refusing to seek the sentence enhancements required by California law, and is ordering prosecutors not to seek them. So serial killers who torture their victims to death will be eligible for parole, rather than getting life without parole or the death penalty.

The district attorney says that he won’t enforce the sentencing enhancements mandated by state law because they are “racist.”  NBC news reports:

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LA County District Attorney George Gascon said Tuesday no exceptions would be made to his new rule that bans prosecutors from filing sentencing enhancements in criminal cases, no matter how terrible the crime.

“I do believe that enhancements have driven mass incarceration in this country and I do believe that they’re racist,” he told reporters in a remote video news conference.

Gascon said people will still be prosecuted for the underlying crimes, but those convicted would likely serve far less time in prison once the enhancements that can add years for things like prior convictions … or the use of guns, are dismissed.

“To believe for a moment that we are going to fix all of the social problems by putting people in a concrete box, is so wrong,” he said.

Gascon’s office is now opposing sentence enhancements in cases of unusually cruel murders such as one where “two men” were “burned to death in a deliberately-set fire at a recording studio,” and for a killer who repeatedly murdered police officers.

Sentencing enhancements seek to ensure that more serious offenders and those with more extensive prior records receive more severe punishment. That is in keeping with the justice system’s goal of proportionality and non-discrimination between similarly culpable offenders. Giving serious or repeat offenders the same sentence as first-time offenders or those who commit borderline violations is wrong and unfair. As the Supreme Court explained in 1971, “the grossest discrimination” can result from “treating things that are different as though they were exactly alike.”

The district attorney believes that sentencing enhancements are racist because offenders are disproportionately black and Hispanic. But the Supreme Court has rejected the argument that racial differences in punishment rates show racism, noting that they in fact reflect racial differences in the crime rate, which is far higher among blacks. For example, the Supreme Court ruled that statistics showing a higher black arrest rate for many crimes did not show racial discrimination, in United States v. Armstrong (1996). As the Justices explained, it is wrong to assume “that people of all races commit all types of crimes” at the same rate, since that presumption is “contradicted by” reality.

Moreover, being soft on violent criminals will harm minorities most, because half of all murder victims in recent years have been black. Being soft on violent minority offenders harms law-abiding minority people, who are the target of most minority criminals: As PolitiFact has noted, between 2010 and 2013, “92 percent of blacks who were murdered were killed by other blacks.”

Gascon is specifically targeting for elimination the sentencing enhancements approved by California voters in Proposition 8. That ballot initiative increased penalties for repeat offenders who commit willful homicide, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault with a firearm.

Crime in California fell significantly after Proposition 8. Three years after Proposition 8 was adopted, crimes punished with enhanced sentences had “fallen roughly 20-40 percent compared to” crimes not covered by enhanced sentences. So refusing to seek those sentencing enhancements will raise the violent crime rate.

Lawyers also fear that Gascon will turn loose serious child-abusers by dropping sentence enhancements. As ABC 7 reports:

In one case, a baby sitter is accused of beating a 6-month-old girl with a blunt object, shattering the baby’s skull and causing severe brain damage. The girl, now 3-years-old, is blind and forced to eat through a feeding tube. [A lawyer] says under Gascon’s new directives, the baby sitter can no longer be charged with a great bodily injury enhancement which could have sent the woman to prison for up to 10 years. “Once the great bodily injury allegation is stricken, that person qualifies for probation. … That means they get to go out and walk amongst the streets and potentially harm another child.”

Gascon’s office will also seek the resentencing of countless inmates convicted long ago of serious crimes, who are serving enhanced sentences. “Gascon estimated such a move could affect at least 20,000 cases,” according to ABC News.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for CNSNews.com and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

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