Federal judge finds Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt

Joe Arpaio
Joe Arpaio

PHOENIX – On Monday, July 31, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, a Clinton appointee, found former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt.

Following a five-day bench trial that commenced on June 26, 2017, Bolton took the matter under advisement.

Bolton set sentencing for 10 a.m. on Oct. 5 and ordered the probation department to prepare a presentence investigation report.

Susan Bolton
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton

The criminal case stems from U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow’s finding of civil contempt in the decade-long case Melendres v. Arpaio and Snow referring Arpaio for an investigation of criminal contempt on Aug. 19, 2016.

The case details how Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) once had 287(g) program authority to enforce federal civil immigration law violations.

However that authority was revoked in October 2009.

In December 2011, Snow issued an order enjoining Arpaio and MCSO “from detaining persons for further investigation without reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed” and stated in his order: “MCSO and all of its officers are hereby enjoined from detaining any person based only on knowledge or reasonable belief, without more, that the person is unlawfully present within the United States, because as a matter of law such knowledge does not amount to reasonable belief that the person either violated or conspired to violate the Arizona smuggling statute, or any other state or federal law.”

Bolton notes in her order that Arpaio responded “yes” during a March 1, 2012 Univision interview when asked if he was still detaining and arresting illegal immigrants.

During the same interview, Arpaio further stated that he would continue to enforce the laws and said “[I]f they don’t like what I’m doing, get the laws changed in Washington.”

A March 28, 2012 press release that followed a load vehicle raid stated, “Arpaio remains adamant about the fact that his office will continue to enforce both state and federal immigration laws as long as the laws are on the books.”

In an April 5, 2012 CBS interview about his Department of Justice investigation, Arpaio said, “Why are they going after this sheriff? Well we know why. Because they don’t like me enforcing illegal immigration law.”

Bolton cited several other government exhibits including some where Arpaio made statements to the effect that ICE was taking illegal aliens off their hands even when they had no state charges against them, despite the federal government having revoked MCSO’s 287(g) authority.

In an Aug. 31, 2012 interview, Arpaio told Fox Latino, “I’m just enforcing the law. I took an oath of office and I won’t back down and I will continue to do what I’ve been doing.”

Bolton quoted United States v. Baker, a 1981 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision: [C]riminal contempt requires a contemnor to know of an order and willfully disobey it … Willfullness and awareness of the order must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt.”

She also quoted from a 1974 Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in United States v. Joyce, which stated: “[B]efore one may be punished for violating a court order, the terms of such order should be clear and specific, and leave no doubt or uncertainty in the minds of those to whom it is addresses.”

In December 2011 Snow found “[a] policy of detaining people pursuant to laws that MCSO has no authority to enforce, or detaining them without reasonable suspicion that they are violating laws it can enforce … merits injunctive relief.”

Snow’s order went on to state, “MCSO does not have reasonable suspicion that a person is violating or conspiring to violate the state human smuggling law or any other state or federal criminal law because it has knowledge, without more, that the person is in the country without legal authorization.”

Bolton determined there was no doubt Arpaio knew or should have known that his conduct violated the preliminary injunction order and found his violation of the order willful.

Bolton stated, “The evidence shows a flagrant disregard for Judge Snow’s order. Credible testimony shows that defendant knew of the order and what the order meant in regards to the MCSO’s policy of detaining persons who did not have state charges for turnover to ICE for civil immigration violations. Despite this knowledge, defendant broadcast to the world and to his subordinates that he would and they should continue ‘what he had always been doing.’”

The maximum sentence for criminal contempt is a fine not to exceed $1,000 and/or six months in prison.

This will most likely go down as the only case in history where a 60-year career lawman is found guilty of criminal contempt for enforcing the law, stemming from a complaint originally filed against him by foreign nationals who violated the law.