A suspected drug trafficker was released from jail Tuesday on zero-dollar bail — a policy that no longer exists.
Pedro Miranda-Muro was arrested by Fresno County Sheriff’s Office detectives, and charged with HS 11351, possession with intent to sell. The maximum penalty is four years imprisonment. He was released 16 hours later, as the drug possession charge is eligible for what was believed to be the court’s bail order.
Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni said Wednesday it’s believed that Miranda-Muro has fled to Southern California or Mexico.
“We are actively looking for him because now the federal prosecutors are going to take a look at the case and have issued a warrant for his arrest. But these are the kind of individuals that are out there transporting this large amount of fentanyl, a large amount of heroin, and they’re automatically released under $0 bail. So this today, on January 4th, is a huge win for us, and it’s going to make our community safer,” Zanoni said Wednesday.
Wednesday afternoon, a court spokesperson confirmed that the order, Local Rule 3.1.14, no longer applies.
“Order No. 3.1.14 has been deleted from the court’s website as it is no longer in effect. The current bail schedule is posted on the website and has been sent to the jail, law enforcement agencies, and justice partners,” Fresno County Superior Court told GV Wire.
Several law enforcement agencies were informed Wednesday of the 2023 bail schedule, which does not include the emergency bail order (also known as “zero-dollar bail”). For much of the day, they were in a state of confusion on the status of the policy.
A posting on the court’s website said the repeal was made “by a majority of judges” on the court. The effective date was today, Jan. 4. It did not indicate when the judges made that decision.
If the new policy had been in place on Sunday, Jan. 1, Miranda-Muro, 23 of Los Angeles, would have faced bail set at $225,000.
Zanoni wished there was “better communication” from the court about the repeal.
Law Enforcement Agrees with Return of Bail
No matter when the emergency bail policy was rescinded, law enforcement leaders are happy to see it go.
Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said the policy made sense during the height of the COVID pandemic, but it led to a spike in violent crime in 2020 and 2021.
“A lack of consequences and accountability do not foster a practice of non-violence for those who do not respect the law or a peaceful society,” Balderrama told GV Wire in a text.
“Although I am a strong proponent of rehabilitation, mental health services, and other violence reduction efforts associated with procedural justice, these must be balanced with consistent accountability and appropriate consequences for serious crime. We look forward to further reductions in violent crime with the elimination of the practice of zero-dollar bail,” Balderrama said.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said her office lobbied the court to include more exemptions to zero-dollar bail, if the policy remained.
“We are very excited that the zero-dollar bail has been revoked and that the court has made that decision. And we are looking forward to having 2023 return to a place where there is more accountability and more responsibility held on behalf of people who choose to commit crimes,” Smittcamp said.
She said the court’s decision indicated two things — the court takes fentanyl seriously, and the court has adjusted, while COVID has waned.
Zanoni also praised the return of the bail schedule, saying it would “keep the community safer.”
12.5 Pounds Seized
Early Tuesday morning, sheriff’s detectives spotted a car near Cantua Creek and pulled it over.
A drug-sniffing dog detected narcotics, and the driver was arrested. The location, in the area of Interstate 5 near Highway 33, is known as a drug-trafficking corridor by law enforcement.
Sixteen hours later, Miranda-Muro was released from jail, part of the court system’s emergency bail order, otherwise known as “zero-dollar bail.”
A sheriff’s spokesman was critical of the emergency bail system.
“The acting presiding judge has the autonomy to remove or alter that rule at any time they see fit,” Tony Botti told CBS 47.
Jail records show Miranda-Muro was booked into jail at 12:52 a.m. Tuesday, and released at 2:52 p.m. He was one of 11 inmates released over three days under “emergency” bail.
“Detectives discovered 11 pounds of pure Fentanyl powder and 1.5 pounds of heroin inside his car. The Fentanyl’s street value is approximately $230,000 and the heroin is $12,000,” a sheriff’s office news release said.
The DEA says that one kilogram has “the potential to kill 500,000 people.” One kilogram is 2.2 pounds.
Zero-Dollar Bail a Pandemic-Era Program
Zero-dollar bail was the policy of the Fresno County Court, a system put in place in March 2020 as the COVID pandemic took hold. Suspects arrested for either felony or misdemeanor charges, with some exceptions, were eligible for $0 bail.
Through a court spokesperson, Presiding Judge David Kalemkarian declined to respond to Botti’s criticism.
The emergency bail order started as a statewide policy to help curb jail overcrowding during the pandemic. The state Judicial Council rescinded the policy in June 2020 but allowed counties to keep, alter or remove it.