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DA in Oakland Sets New Rules Meant to Ease Incarceration

The progressive prosecution policies that landed Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón in hot political water are now set to take effect next week in another of the state's major jurisdictions, Alameda County, under its newly elected DA Pamela Price, the Los Angeles Times reports. “This is not exactly the same as Gascón’s directive, but the language is similar,” Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson said of Price’s draft orders released on Wednesday. Levenson surmised that Price had used Gascón’s policy as a template, but added exemptions for extraordinary circumstances, provided the line prosecutor gets special approval from a supervisor. Such qualifiers suggest that Price has “learned from the missteps” of her Los Angeles counterpart, Levenson said.

Price's new guidelines generally bar her staff from filing enhancements or special circumstance allegations to extend prison time, except in extraordinary situations with approval from supervisors. Price directed her prosecutors to seek the minimum prescribed sentences for people accused of crimes, and to offer probation whenever possible. All told, the policies mark a pronounced shift for law enforcement in her county, which includes Oakland. Price said she had issued the guidelines, which take effect Monday and largely affect plea-bargain negotiations with defendants, “for the fair and balanced administration of justice.” In doing so, she signaled that she wants employees to have less discretion when making decisions on charging and plea bargaining, in a bid to reduce incarceration. “This is not fair to victims,” Oakland Chinatown community leader Carl Chan said, fearing that the new policy would fail to hold perpetrators accountable or keep violent people off the street. Cynthia Chandler, the senior assistant district attorney in charge of the new policy, said it includes safety nets for cases in which an alleged perpetrator poses a danger to the community. “If a prosecutor who is on the ground, who sees these kinds of cases regularly, feels it would be unjust and dangerous for the community to proffer probation in a case, they would never have to do that,” Chandler said.


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