Trump pardon won’t erase Arpaio’s criminal past in comeback bid
Former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio will have to pursue his comeback with a guilty verdict on his resume.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday refused to expunge the criminal contempt finding made against Arpaio for defying a judge’s orders related to his crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
The 87-year-old lawman – once known as “America’s toughest sheriff – is again vying for the job that he held for 24 years in Maricopa County. He lost the 2016 election and was found guilty the following year. A month after the verdict, he became the first person to be pardoned by President Donald Trump.
The three appellate judges, one who was appointed by Trump and two by George W. Bush, were unanimous that Arpaio’s guilty verdict had no legal consequence because technically he was never convicted.
“Here, the issuing of a presidential pardon, and Arpaio’s acceptance of the pardon, preempted his sentencing,” the panel said. “Thus, there is no final judgment of conviction in this case.”
After he was pardoned, Arpaio asked the trial judge to set aside his guilty verdict. She refused – a ruling that was upheld by the appeals court which said it could never be used against him in a future case.
Arpaio’s lawyer Jack Wilenchick declared victory, saying that has exactly the same effect as an order “vacating” the guilty finding.
“The court gave us exactly what we asked for, which is a finding that the guilty verdict is legally meaningless,” Wilenchick said in a statement. “The trial judge’s final order had said just the opposite; it had indicated that the guilty verdict may, or even should, be used against Arpaio in the future in a court of law.”
Arpaio made a name for himself targeting Latinos in the Phoenix area with traffic stops only on the suspicion they were undocumented immigrants. In 2017, a federal judge convicted him of criminal contempt of court for violating orders to stop.
The case took an unusual turn after the U.S. Justice Department, which had started the proceedings against Arpaio under the Obama administration and secured his conviction, said it wouldn’t fight Arpaio’s appeal.
That prompted groups of civil rights organizations, legal scholars and members of Congress to ask the court to appoint an independent prosecutor as well as to challenge the underlying validity of Arpaio’s pardon.
A judge found the pardon was valid, but Arpaio fought on to try to get his offense expunged from court records.