The Fresno County court’s policy of letting criminals go free on zero-dollar bail finally ended Jan. 4.
It was one day too late to keep one suspected drug trafficker in jail — or at least on a $225,000 bail.
On Jan. 3, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office arrested a suspected drug trafficker — 12.5 pounds of fentanyl and heroin — were allegedly found. When Pedro Miranda-Muro only spent 16 hours in jail, let go on the zero-dollar bail policy, the sheriff’s office had enough.
The department vociferously complained in the media, about another dangerous suspect was returned to the community with no consequence — not even a financial incentive (i.e. bail) to behave. Other law enforcement leaders jumped in.
Bail Policy Changed, Weeks Earlier
One day later, on Jan. 4, the Fresno County Superior Court announced that the emergency bail policy was rescinded, and introduced the bail schedule for the new year. Law enforcement praised the move. Finally! they said.
Was it the outrage that the story caused, or a coincidence, that the bail policy changed one day later? No even shame can change public policy that quickly.
Through a request for administrative records, GV Wire examined minutes for the executive committee, the administrative division of the Fresno County Superior Court that sets court policy. The judges discussed the 2023 bail policy at their Dec. 19 meeting. All the county judges then voted on the policy during the week. It passed.
Sources tell me that part of the vote on the 2023 bail policy included revoking Local Rule 3.1.14, the emergency bail order in place since March 2020.
If the judges’ decision was tallied on the week of Dec. 19 (or even a week later), why did it take until Jan. 4 for the court to communicate its decision to jailers and the rest of law enforcement?
Logically, any change in the bail policy would start Jan. 1. If so, Miranda-Muro would not be able to bail out with $0. Dozens of others would likely stay in jail as well.
For the public’s peace of mind, Miranda-Muro was re-arrested, this time charged with a federal drug trafficking crime. In federal cases, bail isn’t set until a suspect sees a judge. Magistrate Judge Erica Grosjean ordered Miranda-Muro to remain detained at a Wednesday hearing.
So, why was the policy implemented on Jan. 4, as opposed to Jan. 1?
The court isn’t saying, despite repeated inquiries from this reporter. A court spokesperson just referred to the Dec. 19 discussion, and website announcement.
It is just another example of judges forgetting that they are elected and should answer policy questions from the media and constituents.
Fresno County Court Leaders Silent on the Process
When it comes to access to the Fresno County Superior Court, hearings and the right to review legal records remain relatively open, COVID-era notwithstanding.
But, explanations in court policy, especially the implementation, and revocation, of the zero-dollar bail policy, need to be more transparent. Not even law enforcement and jailers knew what was going on until the court announced the policy change — made weeks earlier — on Jan. 4.
Judge David Kalemkarian, the presiding judge, needs to explain policy and be more open with the media and the public about major court decisions.
Judges are elected to their positions, just like mayors, state legislators, and members of Congress. Transparency on judicial policy decisions is just as important as how policy is made at City Hall, or the state Capitol.
Law Enforcement Reaction
Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni said his office was not notified until Jan. 4 of the change in policy. He said that he is “thankful and glad” for the revocation of zero bail for serious crimes.
“Three weeks prior. Sure, that would have helped. But moving forward, this is what we have. We’re going to keep going forward. We’re going to keep doing our job, taking these people off the street and ensure they can’t go out there and commit these crimes,” Zanoni said.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp echoed those statements.
“It would have been nice to have it on January first. So it could have affected this case and we didn’t have to … go out and re-arrest,” Smittcamp said. “We are very excited at the DA’s office, too, to get rid of $0 bail because it is just a way for us to keep track of people. It’s a way just to make people accountable.”
About the Author
David Taub is a senior reporter for GV Wire.
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