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Conservative Judges Decline to Vacate Joe Arpaio’s Criminal Contempt Verdict

Joe Arpaio Maricopa County 9th circuit liable

Former sheriff Joe Arpaio was dealt a legal blow on Thursday as a trio of conservative judges dismissed his bid to vacate his criminal contempt verdict.

Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court in July 2017 after serially violating a court order which barred the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office from “[d]etaining, holding, or arresting Latino occupants of vehicles in Maricopa County based on a reasonable belief, without more, that such persons were in the country without authorization.”

Judge Murray Snow determined that Arpaio had “intentionally disobeyed” his injunction over the course of several years for adulatory press in the conservative ecosystem and accompanying campaign contributions that such press entailed. Following his conviction, however, President Donald Trump quickly intervened and granted Arpaio a pardon.

Arpaio then asked a district court to dismiss his pending criminal case and vacate the criminal contempt verdict. The court dismissed the case—all that was left was sentencing; which the pardon foreclosed against—but declined to “revise the historical facts of [the] case.”

On appeal, Arpaio fared no better, though for slightly different reasons.

The Ninth Circuit’s panel opinion notes:

First, although the verdict would have been essential to any final judgment of conviction, there was no final judgment of conviction here, because Arpaio was never sentenced. Second, for the final judgment that was entered in this case—a dismissal of the criminal contempt charge—the verdict was not only not essential to the judgment, but was inconsistent with it.

In other words, the appeals court determined that the initial contempt verdict has “no legal consequences” and therefore no potential for any future legal claims or issues to arise. In other other words: the original decision cannot legally have a negative impact on Arpaio due to the pardon, so he’s stuck with it.

An Arizona defense attorney known online as @bmaz was jubilant about the news.

“Lol, down goes Arpaio, down goes Arpaio!“ he tweeted. “And from three of the most conservative judges on the 9th [Circuit], including a Trumper. Outstanding.”

Recall: Arpaio only learned that his acceptance of Trump’s pardon constituted an admission of guilt during a live television interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber while discussing his ultimately unsuccessful Senate bid in 2018.

Here’s how that went:

Melber: Why should you get a promotion to write laws, when you yourself didn’t follow court orders

Arpaio: …because he knew that this decision was wrong, and I appreciate that pardon.

Melber: As you know, when you take a pardon, you’re admitting guilt. Why did you take that pardon and admit guilt?

Arpaio: I didn’t admit guilt. I said I was not guilty, and I say it today.

Melber: But you accepted the pardon, and you know under the law that is an admission of guilt.

Arpaio: No, I don’t know about that, you’ll have to talk to the legal scholars about that.

Eventually, Arpaio did consult some legal minds about the issue. His attorneys took the case, of course, and various judges took a long look—tossing the ex-lawman’s protest out of various courtrooms.

[image via Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images]

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