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Los Angeles' criminal justice reforms are 'twisted,' Fresno DA says in critical letter

The Fresno Bee - 1/23/2021

Jan. 23—Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp fired off a sharply worded letter to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, calling his efforts at justice reform extreme and anti-victim.

Smittcamp joins three other district attorneys in Sacramento, Kern and San Diego counties who disagree with Gascon's directives that include eliminating cash bail in most cases for nonviolent offenders, the banning of sentencing enhancements and re-sentencing for those with extremely lengthy prison terms.

Prosecutors use sentencing enhancements, such as being in a gang, to add years to a convicted criminal's sentence.

Supporters of Gascon say the changes are necessary and designed to turn the tide of massive incarcerations. Gascon has said in interviews that the current bail system disproportionately affects people of color and low-income criminal defendants.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office declined to comment on Smittcamp's Jan. 19 letter.

'Twisted version' of criminal justice reform

In an interview Friday, Smittcamp said she was prompted to write the letter after seeing other district attorneys voice their opposition.

"He has a twisted version of what criminal justice reform is," she said. "You know I am not really into buying trouble, I have enough issues to deal with, but here is the thing, he sold the LA voters a bill of goods by criticizing and putting down other elected district attorneys calling us archaic and old-fashioned."

Smittcamp said she is concerned that Garcon's reforms could cause the spread of LA gang violence and crime.

"The gangs in LA are good business people, they traffic women, guns and drugs and they don't confine their criminal enterprise to just the boundaries of LA County," she said. "The go south, east and north and when they have carte blanche, it will infect the entire state."

No privileges

Smittcamp said she will refuse to grant LA County jurisdiction in any criminal cases that include Fresno County. The DAs in Sacramento and San Diego have taken similar stands.

"Your lack of concern for victim's rights and public safety is of great concern to all of us who pride ourselves on protecting those very things," she wrote in her letter. "Crime has no boundaries and these special directives will certainly impact areas outside of Los Angeles County."

Smittcamp also took issue with the perception that she and other district attorneys are not working on criminal justice reform. She said that couldn't be farther from the truth.

In her letter, she talked about the creation of the Mental Health Court, Drug Court, Veteran's Court, Restorative Justice and programs to discourage disadvantaged youth from joining gangs.

"We are the prosecutors and elected DAs who properly use our discretion afforded to us by law to help people of color, the impoverished, the mentally ill, and the drug addicted to get counseling, programming and assistance they need. And our goal is to keep them OUT of the system," Smittcamp wrote in her letter.


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