A Tale of Two District Attorneys
One of the most devastating changes to California law in recent years was Proposition 57, Jerry Brown’s “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act,” adopted by voters in 2016. Everything about the initiative was a lie. It was not about public safety and rehabilitation, it was designed to release thousands of hardcore criminals from prison, years and sometimes decades early. Governor Brown claimed it would only allow non-violent criminals qualify for early release, but District Attorneys and the Courts determined that anyone, including criminals convicted of forcible rape and murder would qualify. The initiative also removed all control over who gets released early and how long a sentence they must serve from the legislature and placed it with the Governor and his Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Weeks ago the CDCR announced that it intended to make up to 76,000 prison inmates, including rapists and murderers serving life terms, eligible for parole and early release. This could not happen without Governor Gavin Newsom’s approval. 43 District Attorneys, led by Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert, are suing to block this policy.
Because District Attorneys are elected, county voters choose the level of public safety they want and the difference between one county and another can be astonishing. Variations on how District Attorneys address Proposition 57 demonstrate how important this choice can be.
In Los Angeles, District Attorney George Gascón’ has ordered his deputies to seek court review of cases where violent criminals received long sentences, to encourage their eligibility for early release under Proposition 57. Scott Schwebke of the LA Daily News reports that among the criminals that Gascón wants to be released early is gang member Andrew Cachu, who in 2015 shot a 41-year-old man in the back outside a Palmdale restaurant, killing him. Cachu, who was two-months shy of his 18th birthday when he committed the murder, was prosecuted in adult court and in 2017, sentenced to 50-years-to-life in prison. In a May 10, 2021 hearing, a newly hired prosecutor from Gascón’s office, former public defender and the author of his special directive on early release, Alisa Blair, joined the defense attorney in arguing that under Proposition 57, Cachu should have been prosecuted in juvenile court. If the judge rules in their favor, the state will be required to release him next year. At the hearing, Blair ignored the victim’s family, introduced the defendant’s mother to the judge, and a detective reported that in the hall outside the courtroom she told the mother “Don’t worry, he will get out.”
A lawyer for the victim’s family is now asking the judge to remove Blair from the case for her demonstrated bias toward the defendant and disinterest in the murder victim and his family. “It is a sad day when the victims of crimes need lawyers to defend their rights against a district attorney,” said prosecutor Eric Siddall, Vice President of the LA Deputy District Attorneys Association. It should also be noted that when criminals receive a parole hearing, Gascón has forbidden the deputies in his office from attending to argue on behalf of the victims and their families.
Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has taken a different approach. In 2003 Paul Eugene Robinson was convicted on several counts of forcible rape. Melanie Townsend of Fox 40 News reports that Robinson, nicknamed the “Second Story Rapist,” had raped several Sacramento-area woman in the mid 1990s. He was identified when Schubert, then a deputy DA, pioneered the use of a John Doe DNA warrant to charge the unknown rapist’s DNA. When Robinson was later arrested, his DNA matched samples taken from the crime scenes and he was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to 65 years in prison. Under Proposition 57, a criminal who reaches the age of 50 and has served 20 years of his sentence, becomes eligible for parole. He is receiving his first parole hearing in July. One of his victims is terrified that he might be set free. “I don’t feel like 50 means that he’s getting out and wouldn’t have the capability to continue his compulsion….and who knows what other woman could be devastated.” Schubert intends to fight against Robinson’s release at the hearing, noting the victims “will have a voice there and obviously our office will have a voice there and strongly oppose his parole.”
Los Angeles voters may get another chance to decide what sort of District Attorney they want, as a recall campaign is underway to remove Gascón. Californians will also have the opportunity to replace Rob Bonta, a soft-on-crime Gascón supporter just appointed Attorney General by Gavin Newsom. District Attorney Schubert recently announced the she is running against Bonta to be California’s top law enforcement officer.