The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion Monday supporting former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s bid to have his criminal conviction for contempt of court vacated.
The motion almost assures that Arpaio’s criminal conviction will be dismissed.
Though the president has the power to grant reprieves to any person for crimes against the United States, he does not have the power to vacate convictions. That power rests exclusively with the federal courts. Thus, though the pardon protects him from a jail sentence and further prosecution, Arpaio is still technically a convict.
Arpaio’s lawyers asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona to vacate the conviction in late August, after the former sheriff received a pardon from President Donald Trump. Arpaio’s team argues that the pardon foreclosed any chance for the former sheriff to appeal his conviction and seek reversal of the verdict.
In their brief Monday, DOJ lawyers claim that the pardon effectively mooted the case, because the court cannot impose any punishment against Arpaio for the conviction. Federal courts are only empowered to hear ongoing controversies where their intervention will make some difference to the case. A case is rendered “moot” when events render further action on the court’s part meaningless. Since the court can take no action to affect the Arpaio’s case, federal prosecutors say the case is moot and should be dismissed.
“A pardon issued before entry of final judgment moots a criminal case because the defendant will face no consequences that result from the guilty verdict,” the brief reads. “Accordingly, the government agrees that the Court should vacate all orders and dismiss the case as moot.”
Trump pardoned Arpaio Aug. 25. The former sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt in July for refusing to abide by an injunction ordering his office to cease operations related to the detention of undocumented immigrants. The court found that his office regularly detained Latinos without reasonable suspicion of criminality for the sole purpose of assessing immigration status. He has also been accused of various forms of police misconduct.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton will hear arguments about the matter Oct. 4.
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