Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón walked back his ban on trying juveniles as adults due to a pending Supreme Court case and continued criticism for his “lightest touch” approach to crime.
Gascón, who previously issued a ban on trying minors as adults, said on Feb. 16 he was open to “evolving” his juvenile sentencing policy.
“I am a strong believer that juvenile justice has to be looked at differently than adults,” he said. “But I also understand that we work in the environment that we work.”
Gascón’s office issued a new directive on Feb. 15, requiring prosecutors to get permission from Chief Deputy Sharon Woo to object to the defense’s request to move a case from adult court to juvenile court.
The chief deputy is also to be notified of cases where a defendant is already an adult when a case is opened in juvenile court under the new policy.
Gascón also said he expects an upcoming state Supreme Court ruling to increase the number of requests to move cases from adult to juvenile court.
In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57, which allows minors who were convicted in adult court to retroactively seek a transfer hearing.
Two years later, the legislature added an amendment to Proposition 57 that bans youth ages 14 to 15 to transfer to adult court, “except where they were not apprehended prior to the end of juvenile court jurisdiction.”
In the summer, California’s Supreme Court will decide whether the amendment was unconstitutional.
If the court upholds the amendment, Gascón predicts his office will see an increase in both case transfer requests and retroactive case transfer requests.
“The primary driver is cases coming back and the anticipation, quite frankly, for an increase in workload in this area,” Gascón said.
Gascón’s policies also received criticism last month for the sentencing of Hannah Tubbs, a 26-year-old transgender female.
Tubbs pled guilty last year to the sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl in 2014.
But because Tubbs was 17 years old when the crime was committed, a judge sentenced Tubbs to two years in a juvenile prison.
Tubbs’s case garnered criticism of Gascón’s policies from several LA officials, including Supervisor Kathryn Barger and former LA District Attorney Steve Cooley.
“The outcome of the Tubbs case is unsatisfactory,” Barger said in a statement. “Judge Barrera’s hands were tied today — due to the fact that the DA’s office failed to file a motion to transfer Tubbs to adult criminal court, which is where she rightly belongs. Instead, we’re left with a 26-year-old individual sentenced to two years in a juvenile facility in isolation, separated by sight and sound from the other juveniles.”
Former LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley echoed Barger’s comments and went even further in his criticism of Gascón.
“Supervisor Barger’s press release should have blamed and named DA George Gascón for the horrible result in this case,” Cooley said in a statement. “After all, it is Gascon’s policy as executed by his hand-picked person (recent deputy public defender) to abandon the law, justice, and any semblance of caring for the child victim!”
A spokesperson for Gascón, as well as a spokesperson for the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, did not respond to a request for comment by press deadline.