Q&A: Debra Archuleta. Crime, Bail and Punishment in LA County

9 mins read
A woman smiling for the camera
Debra Archuleta, Photo: Campaign
This entry is part 16 of 23 in the series 2024 Primary Election Candidates

A Judge of the Superior Court, Debra Archuleta resigned her position to run against George Gascón for District Attorney of Los Angeles County.


Q – What do you think is the root cause of retail theft? Should stiffer penalties be imposed? What can we do to curb it?   Would reinstating bail be helpful? 

A – Well, I think it’s a misnomer to call it retail theft. These are more like retail robberies. These are serious and violent felonies and should be treated accordingly. When you have an individual who steals a six-pack of beer or a package of diapers, that’s obviously a different issue. But when you have organized criminals meeting and conspiring ahead of time, going into large retailers, that’s a different class of crime. This whole organized retail robbery ring takes this crime up to the next level. Store customers are in harm’s way, and retail clerks and security personnel hired by these stores are in harm’s way. So, to call this retail theft is a misnomer.

The root cause of this is that there is no enforcement of any laws in the County of Los Angeles under the current leadership.

Gascón doesn’t believe in putting violent and serious criminals in jail or the imposition of bail. He’s jeopardizing our community safety and our willingness and ability to go and shop at these establishments.

“The root cause of this is that there is no enforcement of any laws in the County of Los Angeles under the current leadership. “

Debra Archuleta

Are we safer now than we were three years ago? This is one of my campaign’s recurring themes as I meet people across Los Angeles County. The resounding answer is no. The failure to impose bail on these repeat and serial offenders is allowing a revolving door of people that have no hesitation whatsoever about going in and stealing high luxury item merchandise, running into the local stores with trash bags in hand, filling up their trash bags and running out the doors because they know there’s not going to be any consequence. They know law enforcement will not be called. They know that reports will not be taken, and they know that the crimes that they commit will not be prosecuted. This is very well organized. I will tell you as well that juveniles are being sent into these stores to do these smash-and-grab robberies because juveniles under the current administration do not believe in treating juveniles as adults in the criminal justice system. So this is well organized and well-thought-out retail robberies because to call it retail theft waters down the actual truth of what is occurring in our communities.

Q – What are your solutions for this? 

A – Well, first of all, when the police were to take reports, they would be reviewed by the DA’s office for filing. If it’s a prosecutable case, the case will be filed. So, let’s talk about weapon enhancements. I’m sure that you recall that there used to be a phrase, “Use a gun, go to jail.” Gascón no longer imposes any enhancements on any criminal activity in LA County. So when you have a violent and serious criminal, a smash-and-grab robber, for example, who’s used a weapon during one of these violent robberies, those additional penalties and enhancements will be part of the filing in the DA’s office upon my election. Under my administration, I will impose reasonable bail on serious and violent offenders. Now, when we impose bail, as a judge and formerly as a prosecutor, we would look at the suspect’s rap sheet. Was there a history of violent and serious crimes, of being on probation or on parole, or a tendency to use weapons? Did this person show up for previous court appearances? As a former prosecutor and a current Judge of the LA Superior Court, I don’t know anything about the wealth or the lack thereof of the individual appearing before me.

All I can do is look at the previous criminal history and the current charges and see if this law-abiding citizen got caught up in some unfortunate moment. Or is this a serial and repeat offender who takes full advantage of the current district attorney’s lack of prosecution and the administration of the laws?

“All I can do is look at the previous criminal history and the current charges and see if this law-abiding citizen got caught up in some unfortunate moment.”

Debra Archuleta

Upon my election, we will go back to bail assessment and review for each and every severe and violent case. There will be additional penalties because I believe in holding criminals accountable for the crimes that they commit upon the citizenry.

George Gascón victimizes criminals and criminalizes victims.

The news is full of stories about the preferential treatment that the criminals get under the Gascón administration. This is out of step with what the citizens seem to be wanting.

Q – What solutions do you suggest? Could budgetary increases in law enforcement budgets be helpful?  

A – There have been budgetary increases. Governor Newsom signed a bill, and funds went to law enforcement agencies. George Gascón was offered $2 million of this grant money, free to the DA’s office, to help combat the retail robbery problem in Los Angeles. That was $2 million that would have been used to fund additional prosecutors to help combat this problem. Other law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial agencies within LA County took advantage of this offer and accepted the money. However, when given an opportunity to obtain $2 million from the Governor, George Gascón turned it down.

Q – Do you think CARE court will be effective in helping get people off the street, helping with their mental health problems?

A – I’m hoping that the CARE court can be influential. I don’t know what the CARE Court will look like because it hasn’t been implemented yet. We need a period of time, and we’ll obviously have a better view of how that looks by the time of the general election in 2024. Everyone is optimistic. However, there was pushback on the CARE court, including from some organizations such as the ACLU. It is my belief, based on my 20 years of experience in the district attorney’s office and seven years as a sitting superior court judge, that the homeless situation has exponentially increased due to the passage of Prop 47 and Prop 57. Our fellow citizens did not live in these squalid conditions even five years ago.

The drugs that are on the street now that are very accessible and available are much more potent. They’re laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine. The price of drugs on the street level has dropped dramatically. It used to be there were people who dabbled in drugs, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and they still functioned. The drugs now are causing all sorts of substance abuse disorders. They are causing mental illness due to psychosis based on the repeated use of these very, very strong drugs. This is what is leading to this overwhelming number of mentally ill homeless people on the streets.

“I’ve talked to some recovered addicts personally. They told me, ‘Judge, if I had not been forced into treatment, in jail or state prison or some kind of a custodial setting, I would have never had the opportunity to get the rehabilitation treatment that I needed.'”

Debra Archuleta

We no longer have the ability to force people into mandatory drug treatment programs. When I’m elected, I am going to require, as best I can, to get people into drug treatment and mandatory drug treatment and rehab programs. If they fail to participate, then there will be a consequence.

I’ve talked to some recovered addicts personally. They told me, “Judge, if I had not been forced into treatment, in jail or state prison or some kind of a custodial setting, I would have never had the opportunity to get the rehabilitation treatment that I needed.”

Because of the potency and toxicity of the substances on the street, this has led to a great increase in mental illness and, consequently, homelessness on the streets. Also, under Prop 57, approximately 65,000 inmates have been released from prisons into the county where they were paroled. Many don’t have jobs or cannot return to their families. They are also a percentage of the people living on our streets.

Q – Can you discuss retail insurance pulling out of California?

A – Well, for various reasons, insurance companies feel it is too risky to insure California residents. It is a luxury at this point for working-class people to be able to make and maintain insurance premiums, starting with their cars. Getting apartment insurance here in LA County is almost impossible, and many insurance companies are no longer writing homeowners insurance policies. And it’s not just because they live in high fire danger; it’s because theft is out of control. Businesses are having a hard time. They cannot afford the insurance premiums to insure their buildings and employees because theft is unabated. There are no consequences. Businesses and homeowners feel the increased burden of what it costs to be insured. Who is going to insure California? Do we want the government going into the insurance industry? I don’t think so. This is a direct result of the lack of leadership and the ideological policies of George Gascón. We never had these problems three years ago until he took over the helm of the DA’s. Businesses cannot afford insurance, and when they’re being constantly burglarized, vandalized, terrorized and brutalized, the insurance companies have decided that California is too much of a risk. They’re taking their business elsewhere. They’re making a business decision.

Q – As a nonprofit publisher, we have directors’ and officers’ liability insurance, general liability insurance, errors and omissions insurance, and employment insurance. It’s no wonder that local news is struggling because these are very costly things.

A – Yes. And for those of us who are not in your world, just regular citizens, among the car insurance, homeowners’ insurance, fire insurance, and health insurance, people cannot afford to be insured. We have put an undue burden on the cost of doing business and living in California.

Our businesses and our residents are leaving in droves. We’ve lost a seat in Congress for the first time in decades. We’re losing tax revenues, and frankly, we’re losing some very fine people to other states because they’ve had enough. The DA’s office has lost approximately 20 percent of its attorneys because they do not want to work for George Gascón and the ideological positions he has taken.

“We have put an undue burden on the cost of doing business and living in California.”

Debra Archuleta

The DA’s office has paid over $2 million out of its budget to pay for lawsuits stemming from his retaliatory practices against some of his Deputy District Attorneys. That money would be much better spent on prosecuting crimes or compensating victims and expanding victim services instead of paying out lawsuit claims from employees. Add to that the $2 million he declined to accept from the Governor’s office, and we would have had $4 million more in the budget to prosecute retail crimes and help compensate victims for their losses. I know that two plus two equals four. And then you put a million next to it, and that’s a lot.

Q – What is unique to your campaign?

A – I’ve stepped down from the bench on an unpaid leave of absence to step up for the people of Los Angeles County. It was a decision and sacrifice that my family and I are willing to make because this work needs to be done.

I spent 28 very successful years in the district attorney’s office. I was a prosecutor DA for 26 because I started as a law clerk. I was sort of like David Geffen in the mailroom. I got hired while I was in law school in 1989. I became a Deputy District Attorney in 1991, proudly serving until 2016, when I was elected to the LA County Superior Court. I’ve been on the bench for approximately seven years – three years in criminal courts and almost four years now in children’s dependency court at Edelman Children’s Court, which is ground zero of everything that has gone wrong in our community.

When you are removing children from mothers at birth, like I was, 10 to 15 times per week because a newborn child was born with a positive toxicology screen for methamphetamine and or fentanyl, something needs to change. The woman who gave birth to that drug-addicted child needs mandatory drug treatment. The person who sold that visibly pregnant, drug-addicted mother methamphetamine and fentanyl because she has an addiction needs to go to jail or prison, depending on their record. This child will be in foster care until the mom, hopefully, can get the treatment and the addiction under control so that she can have her child back. This is a situation that nobody in this race can speak about. Nobody has the experience the depth and breadth of my experience, not only as a prosecutor but as an LA County Superior Court Judge. No one can speak to the issues the way that I can.

I took an oath when I became a deputy district attorney. I raised my right hand even when I filed my nominating papers to run for district attorney. You take an oath to swear or affirm that you will uphold the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of California and the laws of the state of California. I am a judge. I follow the law. George Gascón has never tried a case. He’s never set foot in a courtroom as a trial deputy like I have, so his record is underwhelming at best compared to mine.

Series Navigation<< Q&A: Chris Holden. Keeping Voters EngagedQ&A: Marlon Marroquin. Embracing the Unexpected >>
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Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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