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Crime.Justice & America - Profiles - Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley

"Better education means better justice. Better education means a higher standard for government to insure proper prosecution and incarceration. Better education means reduced recidivism, and in turn, less financial burden on society".

 Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley

A 27-year resident of Toluca Lake, Steve Cooley joined the District Attorney’s office in 1973. The veteran trial prosecutor was elected Los Angeles County’s 36th District Attorney on November 7, 2000. Cooley came into office with a promise to reorganize the office, and he has made good on many of his promises. Among his accomplishments are:

  • The first protocol signed with the sheriff and police chiefs throughout the county establishing procedures for referring allegations of law-enforcement criminality to the D.A.’s new Justice System Integrity Division—which also handles enforcement of election and campaign laws
  • A new policy on California’s three-strikes law to assure proportionality in sentencing and even-handed application countywide
  • A new Forensic Science Section to use scientific advances such as DNA in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.
  • A new Victim Impact Program for special protection and assistance for the most vulnerable crime victims
  • The creation of the Los Angeles County Prosecutors Association, bringing a new level of cooperation among local prosecutors in the county

Of special interest for this months publication In Crime, Justice & America are the District Attorney’s efforts in the areas of DNA evidence and the three-strikes policy.

Three-strikes policy

With a goal of providing proportionality, even-handed application, predictability, and consistency, the D.A.’s office issued a new three-strikes policy in December of 2000. In the District Attorney’s words, “It protects society while preventing disproportionately harsh sentences for relatively minor crimes.”

According to the introduction to the policy “It is designed to provide clear guidelines for the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in this important area.” According to Cooley, “The Three Strikes statutory scheme appropriately authorizes the use of prosecutorial discretion in its implementation. As prosecutors, it is our legal and ethical obligation to exercise this discretion.”

To avoid the application of the three-strikes law to misdemeanors, as detailed by Crime, Justice & America as a legal possibility elsewhere in this Issue, the D.A.’s policy offers specific guidelines on what should be considered a third strike. The policy reads, “If a defendant has two or more qualifying prior felony convictions, the case is PRESUMED to be a Third Strike case warranting a minimum 25 years-to-life sentence when at least one of the new charged offenses is a serious or violent felony or is any controlled substance charge in which an additional enhancement pursuant to HEALTH AND SAFETY CODE Sections 11370.4 or 11379.8 is alleged.

This presumption may be rebutted. If the current offense does not involve the use or possession of a firearm or deadly weapon, injury to a victim, violence or the threat of violence, the Head Deputy may authorize seeking dismissal of a strike.” The emphasis belongs to the District Attorney.

Forensic sciences

District Attorney Cooley has also made “the use of DNA in solving so-called cold cases” a priority. A new program for postmortem sexual assault examinations is in place. And the new Forensic Sciences Section is working with defense counsel to follow up on inmates’ requests for DNA testing.

The D.A. is in the process of establishing a DNA collection program to bring Los Angeles County into compliance with the Penal Code requirement for a convicted-offender DNA database. These samples will be added to the California Department of Justice database in Berkeley.

In addition, the District Attorney has established a Crime Lab Advisory Board to ensure the new crime lab at California State University Los Angeles is state-of-the-art, and is responsive to the justice system and law enforcement needs.

Two years, too much to list 

The list of projects Cooley has embarked on or completed in his two years in office extends to several pages. We look forward to seeing the progress of his energetic leadership of the district attorney’s office.

This entry was posted in Profiles.
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