Appeals Court Rejects Joe Arpaio’s Bid To Wipe His Contempt Finding Off The Books

February 27, 2020 12:56 p.m.

An appeals court declined a request by former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio that the criminal contempt finding made against him be wiped off the books now that he has been pardoned by President Trump.

The decision, issued by a panel of judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is a rebuff not just of Arpaio, but the Trump Justice Department, which refused to defend the contempt finding from Arpaio’s attempts to have it vacated. Earlier in the proceedings, a special prosecutor was appointed by the court to oppose Arpaio in the effort.

Arpaio went all the way up to the Supreme Court to try to stop the appointment of special prosecutor Christopher Caldwell, but failed.

A federal judge had found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt in 2017 for defying another judge’s 2011 order that he halt his office’s discriminatory policing tactics.

Before Arpaio could be sentenced, however, President Trump in 2017 issued a pardon — the first of what have been several controversial pardons Trump has issued for his political allies.

In its opinion Thursday, the 9th Circuit said that the contempt finding was not the final judgement in the case, and that a final judgement of conviction was never issued, because Arpaio was offered and accepted the pardon before he was sentenced.

“Though colloquially we refer to the district court’s finding of guilt as a ‘conviction,’ in reality, Arpaio never suffered a final judgment of conviction for criminal contempt,” the court said, as it affirmed the decision by a lower court not to vacate the finding.

The appeals court noted in a footnote that “Although President Trump pardoned Arpaio for his ‘conviction’ for criminal contempt, Arpaio was never technically ‘convicted’ of anything.”

“Here, the issuing of a presidential pardon, and Arpaio’s acceptance of the pardon, preempted his sentencing. Thus, there is no final judgment of conviction in this case; instead, there was a final judgment of dismissal with prejudice,” the appeals court said in the opinion. It stressed that the contempt finding could not be held against Arpaio in sentencing in a hypothetical future case.

“The final judgment entered in this case was a dismissal with prejudice, and the district court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law played no role in that dismissal,” the court said.

Read the opinion below:

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