Joe Arpaio's criminal trial: 9 things to know

On this weekend's "Sunday Square Off," attorneys Roy Herrera and Thomas Ryan break down the key issues in former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's criminal-contempt case, which starts Monday.

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was booted out of office last November, ending a 24-year political career whose defiance of all norms vaulted him to the national stage.

Now the self-named "America's toughest sheriff" could get jail time for defying a federal judge.

What will likely be the final chapter in the 85-year-old Arpaio's public life commences at 9 a.m. Monday in a downtown Phoenix federal courtroom.

Here are nine things to know about Arpaio's trial on criminal-contempt charges:

Why the trial might not start Monday: Arpaio's all-new defense team is swinging for the fences.

Among their motions in the week leading up to the trial, the former sheriff's attorneys called for yet another delay. They warned the judge that in an order Monday, just 2 1/2 hours before the trial begins, the U.S. Supreme Court could require a jury trial for Arpaio.

Not only that, the attorneys claim, but a jury trial would lead to the charges being dropped. Legal experts agree none of that will happen. 

UPDATE 7 a.m. Monday: Supreme Court rejects Arpaio bid for jury trial.

The lead attorney in racial-profiling case against Arpaio said "the former sheriff has always been game to take the long shot" in the Supreme Court.

Why the trial might be moved: Another last-minute Arpaio motion claims Federal Judge Susan Bolton, who is hearing the case, might be affected by pre-trial publicity, so the trial should be held somewhere else.

You might recall that Bolton was the judge who ruled on Arizona's SB 1070, at the time the toughest immigration law in the country. Local and national news coverage of SB 1070 was nonstop. There were people marching in the streets. It was never an issue in the case. Bolton is universally praised as a capable, fair jurist. The trial's not moving.

Why Arpaio's on trial: Arpaio is fighting charges that he intentionally ignored Federal Judge Murray Snow's orders to stop enforcing federal immigration laws.

The charges stemmed from Arpaio's long-running racial-profiling case before Snow. Snow ruled in May 2013 that Arpaio violated the rights of Latino drivers by racially profiling them.

What's the prosecution's case? The key issue is intent. Arpaio already admitted to civil contempt for not following Judge Snow's orders.

But Snow rung up the ex-lawman for criminal contempt, after evidence showed Arpaio intentionally ignored him. Federal prosecutors plan to call witnesses and show evidence of that intent, including Arpaio's own words.

What's Arpaio's defense? Basically, that the feds wanted him to enforce immigration law, so he did. 

"The government is prosecuting the former head of law enforcement in Maricopa County for cooperating with plaintiff (the federal government) in federal law enforcement—which plaintiff has encouraged local law enforcement to do," Arpaio's attorneys wrote in a court filing. 

Why did Arpaio subpoena Jeff Sessions? Arpaio wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to back up the "I was just doing what they told me to do" defense.

The problem is that Sessions started his job a few months ago; he wasn't in office when Arpaio allegedly ignored the judge. And it's just a little weird for the AG to testify for a defendant being prosecuted by the AG's own attorneys. Don't expect Jeff Sessions to walk through the courthouse door.

Who's paying Arpaio's legal bills? Maricopa County taxpayers have eaten the $60 million-plus in costs, including legal fees, stemming from the racial-profiling case. But taxpayers are not obligated to defend Arpaio from criminal charges.

The sheriff has a new benefactor for the criminal-contempt trial. The National Center for Police Defense claims it's raised nearly $300,000 to pay Arpaio's legal bills. The organization's president, James Fotis, will be in Phoenix for the trial. He's slammed the proceeding as a "political assassination" by the federal government. 

Could Arpaio go to jail? If convicted, Arpaio could get up to six months in jail. Legal experts say jail time for the octogenarian former sheriff would be unlikely. A fine is a possibility.

How long will the trial last? Judge Bolton has set aside eight days for the trial. It will run Monday through Friday this week, and July 5 through 7 next week, with a break for the Fourth of July holiday.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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