Sheriff Joe Arpaio Formally Charged For Criminal Contempt

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 8:15am
Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
Joe Arpaio.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been formally charged with criminal contempt of court. Though federal prosecutors had indicated their intent to prosecute Arpaio earlier this month, the charge was not official until U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton signed an order to show cause against the sheriff.

The charging document said the sheriff willfully disobeyed a court order by continuing to make immigration arrests after he was told to stop. Arpaio will face a criminal trial and up to six months in prison if convicted.

Though Bolton's order sets a December trial date, Arpaio's criminal defense attorney has told reporters he intends to ask for a substantial extension.

Meanwhile, Bolton is weighing how to handle two other contempt charges U.S. District Court Judge Murray Snow referred for prosectuion. Snow has overseen an eight-year racial profiling case against the sheriff. He found there were two instances where sheriff's personnel withheld evidence from the court in July 2015. He named Arpaio, Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan, Captain Steve Bailey and attorney Michele Iafrate as defendants for the other violations.

But in a status conference earlier this month, U.S. Justice Department lawyers told Bolton the statute of limitations had passed to prosecute those violations as criminal contempt. A criminal statute requires behavior that is both criminal in nature and a violation of a judge's order and must be prosecuted within a year. But Snow did not refer Arpaio and others for criminal contempt prosecution until August 2016, a month past the deadline.

That news came as a shock to many court observers, including attorney Andy Jacob who follows this case.

"I think everybody including the judge was surprised when the DOJ stood up and said it was too late," Jacob said.

Justice Department lawyers said they could still charge those crimes as obstruction of justice instead, which is a more serious crime.

All the parties are filing briefs on the statute of limitations.