Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon just walked back his blanket ban on trying juveniles as adults, following major backlash, after his office acted on his specific directives approved a two year sentence for a woman who sexually assaulted a child as a 17-year-old.
In 2014, then-17-year-old Hannah Tubbs sexually assaulted a 10-year-old at a Denny’s restaurant in Palmdale. Linked to the assault in 2019 by DNA, Tubbs was finally tried and sentenced last month. However, due to Gascon’s policy of refusing to try juveniles as adults, Tubbs, now 26, was only given a two year sentence. In addition, she will serve her sentence at an LA County Youth facility rather than a prison for adults.
Gascon’s policies have landed him in hot water many times since being elected in December of 2020: banning trying juveniles as adults, reducing many crimes to misdemeanors, and the removal of the cash bail system. A second recall petition hit the signature phase last month and, due to those policies, as well as soaring crime, is currently expected to succeed. Gascon’s recall is similar to San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin’s, over similar policies, and will now face a recall election in June.
The Tubbs decision brought tremendous public backlash. The public furor over the Tubbs decision, as well existing public discontent over Gascon’s policies, and an upcoming state Supreme Court decision that may allow all juveniles who were tried as adults to ask for a transfer hearing, put the LA DA in a difficult place this month. The added furor resulted in growing support for a recall election, with many usually left-leaning donors now funding the campaign to get Gascon recalled, shook up Gascon enough to end his blanket ban on trying juveniles as adults.
A change in policy
According to a released memo from Chief Deputy District Attorney Susan Woo, prosecutors will be required to ask for special permission to object for a motion by a defendant’s lawyer to move a juvenile from adult court to juvenile court. All instances where an adult defendant is now being tried for a crime done as a juvenile are to be given special notification.
While the policy is by no means being removed, Gascon’s step back from a complete ban has astounded many as many had previously hinted that Gascon’s office would not back down on any of his policies.
Gascon said on Wednesday that the new policy was put into place because of an increased number of requests to move trials.
“The primary driver is cases coming back and the anticipation, quite frankly, for an increase in workload in this area,” said Gascon in a Los Angeles Times interview earlier this week. “I’m going to continue to evaluate. I am a strong believer that juvenile justice has to be looked at differently than adults. But I also understand that we work in the environment that we work.”
However, many political analysts have countered that his change of policy was done at least in part to counter the growing recall movement against him.
“Boudin up in San Francisco has a recall coming up and there have already been two successful major recalls this year in the Shasta County Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco School Board. Anyone who has even a remote chance of a recall election is freaking out,” said Southern Californian political advisor Ellen Gardner to the Globe on Friday. “He’s saying that it’s due to the large number of requests, and to his credit there have been a higher than usual amount, but you don’t make a policy shift like this for something like that. Also, look at the timing. The recall signature drive is going on right now throughout the county and he just made a huge blunder in policy that only encourages people on the fence to sign it. The evidence clearly points to Gascon doing this, at least in part, to counter those critics and not face recall.”
“I’m not sure that this will work either. It might give Gascon ammunition if the recall reaches an election by him saying that he changed policy into his term to better reflect what was needed. But right now, it won’t do all that much to really sop people from signing that petition.”
The policy change on trying juveniles as adults has already gone into effect this week.
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