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Lazarus v. Baca

March 17, 2010

STEPHANIE ILENE LAZARUS, PETITIONER,
v.
LEROY D. BACA, SHERIFF OF LOS ANGELES COUNTY; SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA FOR THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: George H. King United States District Judge

ORDER SUMMARILY DISMISSING ACTION

On February 25, 2010, petitioner filed a document entitled "Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254" (the "Petition" or "Pet."). Petitioner alleges that she is being held for trial in Los Angeles County on a charge of one count of murder in violation of California Penal Code section 187 ("Section 187"). Petitioner contends that she is being unlawfully confined pursuant to an order setting bail at $10 million. Petitioner contends that the bail order violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments' prohibitions against excessive bail. Petitioner requests that the Court issue a writ of habeas corpus setting "reasonable bail" for petitioner pending trial; or, in the alternative, directing respondent Los Angeles County Superior Court to show cause why the bail order should not be vacated and reasonable bail not be ordered. (Pet. at 5.)

The Court finds that summary dismissal of the Petition pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 45-46, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed. 2d 669 (1971) is warranted.

I. ALLEGATIONS

Petitioner alleges, in pertinent part, that she is a Los Angeles Police Department ("LAPD") detective, and has been employed by the LAPD since 1983. Petitioner is the defendant in People of the State of California v. Stephanie Ilene Lazarus, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. BA357423. Petitioner alleges that on June 5, 2009, she was arrested and charged, prior to a preliminary hearing, with one count of murder in violation of Section 187. The murder in question is alleged to have occurred on February 24, 1986. (Pet. at 1.) The complaint also alleged a special circumstance of burglary or attempted burglary in violation of California Penal Code section 460, within the meaning of California Penal Code section 190.2(a)(17). (Id. at 1-2.) Because of the special circumstance allegation, petitioner was subject to capital prosecution and held without bail prior to preliminary hearing. (Id. at 2.)

The prosecution moved to amend the complaint to allege an additional special circumstance allegation of lying in wait in violation of California Penal Code section 190.2(a)(15). (Id. at 2.) At the December 10, 2009 conclusion of petitioner's preliminary hearing, the state court dismissed both special circumstance allegations due to insufficient evidence. This rendered petitioner eligible for bail. (Id.) On December 18, 2009, petitioner was arraigned on an information alleging one count of murder and a special allegation of use of a firearm within the meaning of California Penal Code section12022.5(a). (Id.)

On December 18, 2009, the trial court heard petitioner's motion to set bail in the amount of $300,000 to $500,000. (Id.) In support of that motion, petitioner adduced evidence that she had an exemplary work record with the LAPD; she had resided in the Los Angeles area since 1965; she had been married since 1986 to an LAPD officer and had a three-year-old daughter; she had resided in Simi Valley since 1994; and she had a serious medical condition that required monitoring every three months. (Id. at 2-3; Ex. 2 to Pet. at 46-47, 48-49.) She also proffered 21 letters of support from family members, friends, neighbors, and former co-workers. (Pet. at 3; Ex. 1 to Pet.; Ex. 2 to Pet. at 46.)

The prosecution sought bail in the amount of $5 million. (Pet. at 3.) The prosecution argued, inter alia, that petitioner should be considered a flight risk. (Pet. at 3; Ex. 2 to Pet. at 49-50.)

The trial court found that the presumptive bail, according to the Los Angeles County Felony Bail Schedule (the "Schedule"), was $1.055 million. (Pet. at 3; Ex. 2 to Pet. at 45.) The trial court asserted, however, that the evidence against petitioner, including petitioner's DNA in an apparent bite mark on the victim's arm, was "compelling and include[d] motive, means, opportunity and identity." (Ex. 2 to Pet. at 53.) The trial court also asserted that the seriousness of the charged offense was "extreme." In that respect, the trial court noted that the crime took place in the victim's home and that the victim was bludgeoned and then shot three times at close range, including one contact shot to the chest, which suggested an intent to execute. (Id. at 53-54.) The trial court noted that the punishment for such a crime was 25 years to life in prison. (Id. at 54.)

The trial court further asserted that petitioner, as a police officer, likely knew the strength of the prosecution's case and the likelihood that, if convicted, she might spend the rest of her life in prison.*fn1 (Id. at 53-54.) The trial court reasoned, "The seriousness of the charged offense and its punishment and the strength of the prosecution's evidence... provides such a strong incentive to flee that this court believes that if [petitioner] is released on bail, the probability of her not appearing at trial is a near certainty." (Id. at 54.) The trial court accordingly set bail in the amount of $10 million, to be posted only in cash. (Pet. at 3; Ex. 2 to Pet. at 55.)

Plaintiff is unable to post $10 million in bail and remains in the custody of respondent Leroy D. Baca. (Pet. at 4-5.)

II. STATE COURT REVIEW

On December 23, 2009, petitioner filed a petition for writ of mandate with the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Case No. B221175. (Pet. at 4; Ex. 3. to Pet.) Petitioner alleged that: (1) the trial court had no authority to order that bail be posted only in cash; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in setting bail in an amount approximately 10 times the Schedule, and thereby violated petitioner's state and federal constitutional and statutory rights. (Pet. at 4; Ex. 3 to Pet.) On January 21, 2010, the Court of Appeal issued an alternative writ directing the trial court either to vacate the cash bail requirement or show cause by March 19, 2010 why the cash bail requirement should not be vacated. (Pet. at 4.)

On January 25, 2010, an order of the trial court vacating the cash bail requirement was filed with the Court of Appeal. (Id.) On January 27, 2010, the Court of Appeal dismissed the determination of the cash bail requirement as moot and ...


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