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Appeals court rejects Arpaio’s effort to expunge contempt conviction

FILE - This Aug. 26, 2019 file photo shows former Arizona Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. An appeals court on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, denied Arpaio's bid to erase his now-pardoned criminal conviction for disobeying a 2011 court order that barred his traffic patrols targeting immigrants. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

PHOENIX – A U.S. appeals court on Thursday ruled against former metro Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio in his effort to erase the contempt of court conviction for which he previously received a presidential pardon.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco affirmed a lower court’s ruling to uphold Arpaio’s July 2017 conviction after hearing the case late last year.

“The district court’s judgment dismissing Arpaio’s criminal proceeding with prejudice and denying vacatur of the finding of guilt is affirmed. Because Arpaio’s challenges to the district court’s finding of guilt are moot, we do not address them,” Thursday’s ruling said.

President Donald Trump pardoned Arpaio in August 2017, but the 87-year-old former Maricopa County sheriff, who is mounting a 2020 campaign to reclaim the position, sought to have the misdemeanor conviction expunged from his record.

Arpaio had been found guilty of purposefully ignoring a court order to end his immigration sweeps. He has maintained that while he did continue the patrols, he didn’t knowingly dismiss the 2011 order.

Despite Thursday’s decision, Arpaio’s camp declared a victory of sorts.

“The Ninth Circuit expressly found that the guilty finding has ‘no future preclusive effects,’ which is what we asked for at oral argument on the appeal,” Jack Wilenchik, a attorney for Arpaio, said in a press release.

Arpaio’s lawyers had previously told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that their client was deprived of his opportunity to appeal the conviction because the pardon came before he was sentenced and final judgment was entered, so the conviction must be erased.

Prosecutors argued Arpaio gave up his right to appeal the conviction when he accepted the pardon – and that if he wanted to challenge the conviction, he should have rejected the clemency and taken his chances in the appeals court.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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