Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Contempt Hearing Begins in Arizona

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 21, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been fighting federal immigration law for what seems like most of the 21st century. And, as the old tune goes, the law has won.

But according to contempt charges in federal court, the sheriff hasn't taken the loss to heart. Instead, he and four aides allegedly violated a court order barring the sheriff's immigration enforcement patrols. U.S. District Judge Murray Snow found the patrols illegally racially profiled Latinos and now must determine if and how Arpaio will be punished for disobeying his order to discontinue the practice.

I'm Out of Order??

The Department of Justice sued Arpaio and his department for civil rights violations in 2012, and the U.S. District Court ordered the sheriff and his deputies to stop using "race or Latino ancestry" as a factor in stopping, detaining, or reporting Latino drivers or vehicle occupants to immigration officials.

Arpaio admits he disobeyed the order and obstructed the acquisition of traffic-stop videos in regards to the profiling case, and maintains he never told his rank-and-file deputies about the 18-month-old injunction. The self-proclaimed "America's toughest sheriff" also agreed to pay $100,000 to a civil rights organization. Judge Snow has said that isn't enough.

No, You're Out of Order!!

Civil contempt of court, with which Arpaio is charged, is behavior that ignores or disobeys the authority or an order of a court in a civil action. Judges are given considerable discretion when it comes to identifying and punishing contempt. While Judge Snow said the money donation offered by Arpaio may be an adequate financial penalty, it was not enough to resolve the department's misconduct in defying the court's order.

Snow also left open the possibility of criminal contempt charges, which could carry jail time as a penalty. This is not Arpaio's first run-in with civil rights violations, nor is it his first contempt charge and hearing with Judge Snow. It's unclear how much the sheriff's defiant past will come into play with his current charge.

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