Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio asks US Supreme Court for jury trial in contempt case
PHOENIX — Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his request to have a jury, rather than a judge, decide whether he should be convicted of criminal contempt-of-court charge for defying a court order in a racial profiling case.
Arpaio’s lawyers made the filing with the nation’s highest court on Wednesday, a month before he’s scheduled to be tried on a misdemeanor charge for ignoring an order to stop his immigration patrols.
In the filing, Arpaio’s attorneys raise a possible scenario in which the 84-year-old lawman is convicted of the charge and appeals the case, yet dies before his appeal is ruled on.
Jack Wilenchik, one of Arpaio’s attorneys, said in an interview that such a scenario would forever tarnish his client’s name.
“A lot of this is about principle,” Wilenchik said. “This is about his honor. If he were to die without a reversal (of a conviction), that is something that can’t be undone.”
Arpaio has acknowledged prolonging the patrols for months but insists his disobedience wasn’t intentional. If convicted, the lawman known for his get-tough approach on criminals would face up to six months in jail.
The contempt case is believed to have contributed to Arpaio’s defeat in November after 24 years in office.
The judge presiding in the profiling case recommended the charge last year and then handed the case off to another judge, who has said she will decide whether Arpaio is convicted. Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his request for a jury trial.
Wilenchik said he believes his client, who was popular among voters, would fare better before a jury of citizens.
He also raised separation-of-powers questions about having a judge decide a criminal case against an elected official that had been recommended by another judge. He said letting a jury decide the case would ensure independence in the judicial system and eliminate the appearance of bias.
Arpaio’s attorneys also said if the court decides to take up the jury-trial request and can’t decide it before the June 26 trial, then the case should be put on hold until the issue is resolved.
Arpaio is also asking the judge presiding over the contempt case to bar prosecutors from mentioning at trial comments that he made about immigration during his last three campaigns.
Arpaio and his attorney’s also want the judge to prohibit the trial testimony of two people who were illegally detained when the then-sheriff prolonged his patrols.
Neither request has been decided by the judge.