A federal judge hinted that she might acquit former Maricopa County, Az., Sheriff Joe Arpaio of criminal contempt, reports the Arizona Republic. The question is whether Arpaio willfully defied a judge’s orders barring him from conducting immigration-enforcement operations. In closing arguments yesterday, federal prosecutors used the sheriff’s words of defiance against him, claiming that he continued the practice for political gain. Defense attorneys maintained that the judge’s order was unclear, and therefore Arpaio couldn’t have violated it intentionally.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton grilled prosecutors about one of the requirements to prove criminal contempt. By law, the violated order must be “clear and definite,” and the defendant must have known about the order and willfully flouted it. “So it had to be clear and definite to a person in the position of the defendant, or is it clear and definite as explained by other people in his office?” she said. “Or does it have to, on its face, be clear and definite, without anyone else explaining it?” Bolton cited an email within the sheriff’s command staff about the order, noting that “clearly” Arpaio’s subordinates didn’t understand it. Keller replied, “When you’re under a court injunction, you don’t get to say, ‘Well, um, no one explained it to me sufficiently.’ The defendant may not avoid criminal contempt by ‘twisted interpretations’ or ‘tortured construction’ of the provisions of the order.” After court, both sides read Bolton’s line of questioning as favorable to the defense.