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Name: People v. Lazarus
Case #: B241172
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 07/13/2015

People v. Nelson, which held that negligence as well as purposeful pre-accusation delay may violate due process, applies where the crimes occurred after the passage of the truth-in-evidence provision of the California Constitution. Lazarus, a Los Angeles police officer, was convicted of the 1986 first degree murder of her former lover’s wife. The crime was not solved until 2009, when DNA evidence linked Lazarus to the murder. Lazarus moved to dismiss, based on pre-accusation delay and the negligence of the police investigators. The trial court denied the motion, finding that although Lazarus had made a minimal showing of prejudice, the truth-in-evidence provision of the California Constitution required application of the federal standard of purposeful delay. Lazarus appealed. Held: Affirmed. Delay in prosecution that occurs before an arrest or a complaint is filed may deny due process and a fair trial under the state and federal Constitutions. Once the defendant shows prejudice caused by the delay, this must be balanced against the justification for the delay to determine whether a due process violation occurred. The trial court erred in applying the federal purposeful delay standard, as negligent delay may also violate due process. The truth-in-evidence provision of the California Constitution (art. I, § 28, subd. (f)(2)) did not abrogate the holding of People v. Nelson (2008) 43 Cal.4th 81, for crimes that post-dated Proposition 8’s passage. However, in deciding the dismissal motion, the trial court assumed negligence would support the motion and found that the justification for the delay outweighed any prejudice to the defense. Appellant did not demonstrate that law enforcement was negligent in failing to test the evidence earlier and identified only minimal prejudice. The passage of time was more likely prejudicial to the prosecution.

Appellant’s motion to suppress evidence found during a search of her home was properly denied. Two warrants were issued authorizing the search of appellant’s property and vehicles. Prior to trial, Lazarus moved to traverse the warrants and suppress the evidence obtained during the searches. She claimed the information in the warrants was stale and overbroad. The trial court denied the motion to quash based on the officer’s good faith statements in the affidavit in support of the warrant. Held: Affirmed. The Fourth Amendment requires search warrants to issue only upon a showing of probable cause. Here, the information in the affidavit provided probable cause to search appellant’s current home despite the passage of years and even though she had moved several times since the murder. Even substantial delays will not render warrants stale where it is unlikely the defendant will dispose of the items sought. The affidavit presented strong evidence of Lazarus’ guilt and her motive for the offense. The type of items sought (journals, photographs, gun, etc.) are not normally discarded even after several moves and the passage of time. The warrant was not overbroad in including the search of computers she did not own when the crime was committed, as she may have transferred previously possessed information or photographs to the computers.

The Leon good faith exception precluded the suppression of evidence seized pursuant to the warrant. Even if the Court of Appeal were to conclude that the evidence known to the officer who signed the warrant affidavit did not provide probable cause, there was no basis on which to conclude the officer involved had determined there was an absence of probable cause. There was no misrepresentation in the affidavits, and the magistrate was not misled in issuing the warrants. The searches took place after the issuance of duly authorized warrants and the good faith exception applied. (See United States v. Leon (1984) 468 U.S. 897.) The trial court did not err in denying the motion to suppress.

The trial court did not err in admitting statements Lazarus made during a police interview. Using a ruse, investigating officers brought Lazarus into an interview room and questioned her regarding the murder without administering Miranda warnings or telling her she was in custody. Lazarus opposed the prosecution’s request to admit a recording of that interview, citing Garrity v. New Jersey (1967) 385 U.S. 493 (statements of police officers made under threat of removal from office were coerced and could not be used in subsequent criminal proceedings). The trial court allowed the evidence. Held: Affirmed. The Fifth Amendment’s protection against compelled self-incrimination prohibits the use of statements made under the threat of removal from office, in subsequent criminal proceedings. But only compelled statements, not answers freely given, are subject to suppression. Lazarus was not directed to submit to the interview by her supervisors nor were the detectives who questioned her in her supervisory chain of command, or with internal affairs. They never suggested her job was in jeopardy if she failed to cooperate. Her answers were not compelled.

The DNA evidence obtained via the “MiniFiler” technique was not subject to a Kelly hearing. Prior to trial, Lazarus requested a People v. Kelly (1976) 17 Cal.3d 24 hearing regarding a portion of the DNA evidence found under the victim’s fingernails, which was analyzed using a MiniFiler method that is able to extract data from compromised samples. She claimed MiniFiler was a new DNA analysis kit and that its reliability had not been established by the prosecution or previous authority. The prosecution countered that MiniFiler was a PCR-STR test kit whose technology was basically the same as other kits that have been approved by other courts as generally accepted. The trial court found a Kelly hearing was unnecessary. Held: Affirmed. The PCR-STR method of analyzing DNA evidence has been found generally accepted in numerous decisions. Lazarus failed to establish that the MiniFiler kit is a new technique or significantly changed the accepted methodology. In any event, any alleged error was harmless given the remaining evidence.