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Legally Speaking: Arpaio case far from over despite guilty ruling

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It’s a word you never thought would be associated with former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, at least not in the sense that the former sheriff himself would be convicted of a crime.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled Monday that Arpaio was guilty of criminal contempt.

Criminal contempt is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a maximum punishment of six months in jail, probation and a fine.

Yes, you read that correctly: Arpaio could go to jail. I highly doubt it but anything is possible.

How did he get to this point? Back in December 2011, U.S. District Judge Murray Snow issued a preliminary injunction that Arpaio’s deputies could no longer detain illegal immigrants based solely on the fact they were in the country illegally.

The immigrants could be arrested and detained if they had violated a state law, but not if their only crime was being in the U.S. That preliminary order later became permanent.

After Snow issued that order, MCSO continued to detain people. Snow found Arpaio in civil contempt and requested he be prosecuted for criminal contempt. Prosecutors agreed and Arpaio’s trial was held this summer in front of Bolton.

According to Bolton, the prosecutors successfully proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the former sheriff knew of Snow’s order and willfully disobeyed it by detaining immigrants.

In support of her decision, Bolton pointed to MCSO former attorney Tim Casey’s testimony that he personally spoke with Arpaio and his top deputies about the order and explained it to them. She also referred to several media interviews wherein Arpaio said he would continue his actions.

Bolton also referred to the agency’s human smuggling unit’s shift summaries that indicate about 171 people were illegally detained in violation of Snow’s order.

Arpaio’s attorneys did as much as they could with the facts they had but ultimately they were unsuccessful in their attempt to argue that “he has not willfully violated the preliminary injunction order because he delegated enforcement of the order to his subordinates.”

Bolton did not buy the argument and wrote, “Not only did defendant abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates the he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise … The evidence shows a flagrant disregard for Judge Snow’s order … defendant broadcast to the world and to his subordinates that he would” and they should continue “what he had always been doing.

“The court concludes that there is no doubt that defendant knew or should have known that his conduct violated the [order].”

At one time, Arpaio tried to argue that political speech and interviews done on the campaign trail cannot be held against him, but that did not fly in Bolton’s eyes.

People and politicians can make a stand and hold firmly to what they believe is correct. However, a court’s order trumps that by law and Arpaio has learned this lesson the hard way.

Now that Bolton found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt, she must sentence him. He was scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 5 after a pre-sentence report is prepared and presented to the court along with recommendations from the prosecutor and from the defense.

Arpaio has said he will appeal the ruling, which does not come as a shock. He had already argued that the prosecutors waited too long to file charges and were outside the statute of limitations.

That argument will once again surface, along with others.

Bottom line: Although Arpaio was found guilty today, this is far from being over.

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