The Los Angeles district attorney is facing sharp criticism for her handling of criminal justice issues, including capital punishment.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s handling of the death penalty is “shameful” and riddled with racial bias, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Lacey’s tenure is in sharp contrast to San Francisco D.A. George Gascon, who has brought no capital punishment charges. Gascon is a former Los Angeles police officer who has indicated he may run against Lacey in the 2020 election, the Los Angeles Times reported June 21.
The ACLU report found that all of the 22 people sentenced to death during Lacey’s tenure, which began in 2012, were people of color; 13 Latino, eight Black and one Asian. All 22 were from Los Angeles County.
“Los Angeles County is one of the largest killers in the country when it comes to imposition of the death penalty,” said Jeffery Robinson, ACLU deputy legal director.
“The death penalty in America is impossible to separate from America’s legacy of racism, violence and lynching,” added Robinson.
Lacey has maintained that race is not a factor in her prosecutors’ deliberations and defended her office’s process in determining who they would ask the state to kill.
“As long as the death penalty remains legal in California, a committee of diverse prosecutors will review these cases using one of the most extensive review processes in the nation and make recommendations based on facts without regard to the race of a defendant or victim,” Lacey said in an emailed statement to The Appeal.
However, data contradicts Lacey’s assertions, said Robinson. “The most important aggravating factor in the case is the race of the victim. The second most aggravating factor is the race of the defendant.”
Gascon keeps all demographic information about suspects from his prosecutors as they go through their deliberations regarding application of the death penalty, the Times reported.
When Lacey was elected district attorney in 2012, she became the first woman and first Black to hold that office. She was embraced by liberal activists as someone they hoped would take a new approach to criminal justice, according to the Times.
“She’s smart, tremendously effective and clear-eyed and she always puts the mission of advancing justice for all above everything else,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Cassandra Stubbs, director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, offered a far different assessment, “Unfair and discriminatory,” said Stubbs. “That’s the legacy of District Attorney Lacey’s death penalty in Los Angeles. I think it’s important that LA voters hold her to account for that.”
Lacey has said she remains supportive of capital punishment, noting that it is still the law in the state, and that voters have backed the penalty. Her office continues to pursue new death penalty cases. She is running for re-election in 2020, according to the Times.