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Legally Speaking: Jail will not be part of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s future


It is official: Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been criminally charged.

He, like many others who reside in his Maricopa County jail system, is facing a potential sentence of up to six months in jail. Will he ever see the inside of a jail cell as an inmate? Legally speaking, absolutely not. At least not for this.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton signed the order charging Arpaio with violating 18 U.S.C. section 401(3), which reads:

“A court of the United States shall have power to punish by fine or imprisonment, or both, at its discretion, such contempt of its authority, and none other, as— (3) Disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command.”

Essentially, this means that the court can punish Sheriff Joe with jail time and/or a fine if the prosecutor can prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he disobeyed the court’s order.

It is already known he disobeyed District Court Judge Murray Snow’s order to stop the illegal detentions of minorities. How do we know this? Because he admitted it on the stand at the beginning of the civil contempt hearing.

It is also known because Snow found the sheriff in contempt and wrote a long and scathing opinion on it. So now the question comes down to intent. Did the sheriff intentionally, knowingly violate the court’s order?

The defense team will try to prove he did not while the prosecutor will repeatedly point to Snow’s findings.

That is the legality of the situation but now let’s look at the reality of the situation.

The trial is scheduled for Dec. 6; however, it is unlikely it will occur on that day. That court date is just around the corner, a mere 42 days away. I have been practicing a long time and have no recollection of any criminal case (that wasn’t a traffic ticket) going to trial that fast.

This is especially true when you are dealing with an elected official who just happens to be head of one of the country’s largest law enforcement agencies.

Arpaio’s attorneys will request, and will receive, ample time to investigate and prepare for trial.

In the event this case actually goes to trial and America’s toughest sheriff is convicted, I find it highly unlikely he will go to jail.

The sheriff does face a sentence of up to six months in jail; however, he has no criminal record and he is 84. He would undoubtedly have numerous witnesses that would testify as to his character and that he has spent a lot of years of his life keeping criminals off the street.

Is he the kind of person who is a danger to the community and should be locked up? Many would likely disagree with me but I say no.

So, you may be asking, if the possibility of him going to jail is almost nonexistent, then what punishment does Sheriff Joe really face? My answer – not a significant one.

In fact, I would say it is the proverbial slap on the wrist.

Under Arizona state law he cannot be removed from office with a misdemeanor conviction and I would be surprised if this would rise to the level of a felony. (If convicted of a felony then he would be removed.)

He might be assessed a fine but I am sure his supporters would chip in to pay that. But he would, in essence, have a criminal record, like many others in Maricopa County.

Would his reputation be tarnished? To some it would be, to others they would see him as a martyr, a hero.

We have had many high profile cases in Maricopa County and I have learned to expect the unexpected.

This will go down as one more chapter in the marred story that is Arizona’s politicians.

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