Fresno County Superior Court – Criminal Courts Departments 95 & 96
Fresno County Superior Court – Criminal Courts Departments 95 & 96
Overview of Fresno County Superior Court
The Fresno County Superior Court is part of the California state court system and serves Fresno County in California’s Central Valley. With over 1 million residents, Fresno County is one of the most populous counties in California. The Superior Court hears felony criminal cases, civil cases, family law, probate, and other matters. The court operates several courthouse facilities in Fresno, Clovis, and other cities in the county.
History and Background
The Fresno County Superior Court was established in 1855 shortly after the founding of Fresno County. The court was initially housed in the Fresno Courthouse downtown but over the years expanded into other facilities. Major courthouses include the B.F. Sisk Courthouse, the Clovis Courthouse, and the Juvenile Justice Campus Courthouse. The court has over 70 judges and commissioners presiding over its various departments and divisions.
Organization and Structure
The Superior Court has a Presiding Judge, Assistant Presiding Judge, and Executive Officer who oversee court operations. The court is organized into civil, criminal, family, probate, juvenile, and appellate divisions. Within the criminal division, cases are heard in specific numbered court departments dedicated to different types of criminal matters ranging from misdemeanors to capital murder cases.
Types of Cases Heard
The criminal division handles arraignments, preliminary hearings, motions, trials, sentencings and other proceedings for adult felony criminal cases including both misdemeanors and felonies. Common felony charges include assault, robbery, burglary, theft, drug offenses, DUI, domestic violence, weapons charges, murder, and more. Criminal departments also process violations of probation and parole.
Departments 95 and 96
Departments 95 and 96 of the Fresno Superior Court specifically handle felony criminal cases including arraignments, trials, sentencing and other matters. The judges preside over cases involving a broad range of criminal charges.
Department 95 is presided over by the Honorable Arlan Harrell, who was appointed to the bench in 2007 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He previously served as a Fresno County prosecutor for over 15 years.
Department 96 currently has two judges who rotate assignments. The Honorable Gary R. Orozco was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2018 and previously served as a Fresno County prosecutor and defense attorney. The Honorable Michael G. Idiart was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020 and was previously a Fresno County prosecutor for over 10 years.
Types of Criminal Cases Heard
Together, Departments 95 and 96 handle thousands of criminal cases every year involving charges such as homicide, sexual assault, robbery, assault, domestic violence, weapons offenses, drug crimes, property crimes, DUI, and more. The cases range from misdemeanors to serious, violent felonies. Many cases involve gang affiliations and firearms use.
Courtroom Procedures and Policies
In Departments 95 and 96, defendants go through standard criminal case procedures such as arraignment, pretrial hearings, motions, jury selection, trial, and finally sentencing if convicted. Bail and pretrial detention decisions are made at arraignment. The prosecutors and defense attorneys litigate motions to suppress evidence or dismiss charges prior to trial. Jury trials usually last around 1-2 weeks. Most cases end in plea deals rather than trials.
Sentencing and Outcomes
In felony cases with convictions, the judges have wide discretion when imposing prison, jail, probation, fines, restitution, and other sentences. Under California’s Public Safety Realignment law, many nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offenders serve sentences in local jails rather than state prisons. Violent felonies still receive multi-year prison terms. Sentencing laws and practices have been controversial in Fresno criminal courts.
Experiences in Departments 95 and 96
Those who have participated in cases before Departments 95 and 96 have had mixed experiences and perspectives on how these courtrooms operate.
Perspectives of Prosecutors
Prosecutors often express satisfaction with the judges’ experience and knowledge of criminal law in these courtrooms. However, some prosecutors have argued the judges can be overly lenient in sentencing, especially with recidivist offenders. They believe longer sentences would increase public safety in Fresno County.
Perspectives of Defense Attorneys
Defense attorneys note the heavy caseloads and time constraints in Departments 95 and 96 make it challenging to adequately prepare cases and advocate for clients. Some attorneys feel the courtrooms are overly prosecution-oriented. However, others feel the judges are impartial and open-minded when evaluating cases.
Experiences of Defendants and Families
Defendants and their families describe feeling intimidated and confused when navigating cases in Departments 95/96. The court process moves quickly, giving little time to understand procedures, charges, and consequences. Families feel excluded and believe their voices go unheard during sentencing.
Key Issues and Controversies
Several issues related to practices and outcomes in Departments 95 and 96 have sparked debate and proposals for reform from legal groups and community advocates.
Concerns About Sentencing Disparities
Data analyses have identified significant racial, ethnic, and geographic disparities in sentencing between Fresno criminal courtrooms – including Departments 95 and 96. Reforms have been proposed to create uniform sentencing guidelines.
Debates Over Bail and Pretrial Detention
Advocates argue excessive bail amounts and pretrial detention disproportionately impact people of color and low-income defendants. They propose implementing more non-monetary release, pretrial risk assessments, and supervision programs to increase releases pre-trial.
Questions About Jury Selection Diversity
Concerns have been raised that jury pools in Departments 95/96 lack diversity and representation of communities most impacted by the justice system. Attorneys recommend new policies like expanded source lists to improve representation.
Ongoing Reforms and Improvements
While Fresno criminal courts still face criticisms, Departments 95 and 96 have worked to implement some promising reforms and innovations in recent years.
Efforts to Increase Alternatives to Incarceration
The judges have expanded probation, electronic monitoring, community service, fines, and rehabilitation programs as alternatives to jail/prison for appropriate offenders. However, some feel these alternatives remain underutilized compared to incarceration sentences.
New Mental Health and Drug Courts
Specialty mental health and drug treatment courts have been launched to serve offenders with mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. These courts promote connections to community treatment services rather than ineffective incarceration.
Enhanced Training for Prosecutors and Judges
Trainings on issues like implicit bias, cultural awareness, and restorative justice have been provided to judges and prosecutors in Departments 95 and 96. The goal is to improve fairness, reduce disparities, and increase trust in the courts.
Detailed Directory of Fresno County Courts
Navigating the legal maze can be perplexing. However, knowledge is power! Here’s your guide to the Fresno County courts:
B.F. Sisk Courthouse
Address & Contact: 1130 O Street, Fresno, CA 93721 Phone: 559-457-2000
This courthouse is a central hub, named after a prominent figure in Fresno’s history. It’s almost like the heart of Fresno’s judicial system. Picturing it yet?
Criminal Courts Departments 95 & 96
Address & Contact: 1265 M Street, Fresno, CA 93721 Phone: 559-457-2000
Think of this as the epicenter of criminal cases. These departments are dedicated to ensuring that justice is served, ensuring a fair trial for all.
Downtown Fresno Superior Court
Address & Contact: 1100 Van Ness Avenue, Fresno, CA 93724 Phone: 559-457-2000
Located in the bustling center of the city, this court is to Fresno what Broadway is to New York. An essential spot, pulsating with activity.
Juvenile Delinquency Facility
Address & Contact: Juvenile Delinquency Facility 3333 East American Avenue, Suite A, Fresno, CA 93725 Phone: 559-457-4810
Picture a place where young minds, unfortunately having made missteps, are given a chance to right their wrongs. This facility aims to do just that.
M Street Courthouse
Address & Contact: 2317 Tuolumne Street, Fresno, CA 93721 Phone: 559-457-1700
Another crucial cog in the Fresno judicial machinery, the M Street Courthouse is a testament to the region’s commitment to upholding justice.
Fresno County’s Departments 95 and 96 play a critical role in handling the county’s serious criminal caseload. While the courtrooms still face issues like sentencing disparities and lack of resources, recent reforms show promise for improving practices and enhancing community trust going forward. Collaboration between court officials, attorneys, and impacted communities will be key to ensuring these courtrooms deliver justice in an ethical, equitable manner.
What types of criminal cases do Departments 95 and 96 handle?
Departments 95 and 96 handle felony criminal cases ranging from violent crimes like murder and assault to property crimes, drug crimes, weapons offenses, and more. Misdemeanors are handled in other departments.
Who are the judges that currently preside over Departments 95/96?
Department 95 is presided over by Judge Arlan Harrell. Department 96 has two judges, Gary R. Orozco and Michael G. Idiart, who rotate assignments.
What sentencing options exist for people convicted of felonies in these courtrooms?
Sentencing options include prison, jail, probation, fines, fees, restitution, diversion programs, community service, rehabilitation treatment, etc. Sentence length depends on the conviction offense and prior record.
What concerns exist regarding practices in Departments 95/96?
Main concerns include sentencing disparities, excessively high bails, lack of jury diversity, need for more alternatives to incarceration, and better resources for defendants and families.
What types of reforms are the courtrooms implementing?
Reforms include expanding probation/diversion programs, launching mental health/drug courts, providing implicit bias training for judges/prosecutors, and efforts to improve jury selection diversity.