Experts Say A Presidential Pardon For Joe Arpaio Would Be Rare

By  Jimmy Jenkins
Published: Monday, August 21, 2017 - 8:41am
Updated: Monday, August 21, 2017 - 8:42am

Puente supporters make protest signs for Donald Trump's visit to Phoenix.
(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)

Joe Arpaio wasn’t your typical sheriff and he wouldn’t be a typical candidate for a presidential pardon.

Robert Weisberg is a professor of criminal law at Stanford University. He said presidential pardons are usually given to people facing stiff sentences.

RELATED: Arizona Lawmakers To President Trump: Don’t Pardon Arpaio

“They tend to be relatively obscure people who have been in prison for a long long time. Kind of, shall we say ordinary criminals," Weisberg said. "What’s really, really rare here is a pardon for a misdemeanor.”

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio
(Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court, but he only faces six months in jail. Weisberg points to recent pardons granted by President Barack Obama for drug offenders facing long prison terms as more common. He said pardons are normally saved for serious criminal convictions.

“Misdemeanors are moderately serious convictions, so I think many would view this as a very gratuitous act by Trump," Weisberg said.

It would also be totally outside the normal protocol for a pardon since Arpaio claims he hasn’t asked for one. The process is normally conducted through channels at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Arpaio’s attorney Jack Wilenchik won’t comment on any communication between the the former sheriff and White House, but he said his client would accept a pardon should the president offer it.

“Joe Arpaio didn’t get a fair trial," Wilenchik said. "The judge should have granted him a jury trial and if the president issues a pardon that’s a check on the system and its the right thing to do.”

But ACLU Deputy Legal Director Cecilia Wang said a pardon from President Donald Trump would undermine his own department of justice. “The President’s basically thumbing his nose at the rule of law,” she said.

Wang said Trump would be going against "the role of the Federal courts in ensuring that law enforcement officials like Sheriff Joe Arpaio are held to account when they violate the constitutional rights of people.”

She said a pardon for Arpaio would not undo the legal victories that she and so many others fought for in the community and in the court. But regardless of what Trump actually does — the message is clear: “The president’s threat is a signal that be believes in official racism. That he is literally pardoning official racism," Wang said.

Signs made by Puente supporters to protest President Donald Trump.
(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)

As President Trump's impending visit loomed, people gathered Friday night in Phoenix at the Puente headquarters for an art party to express their feelings and plan their resistance. Volunteers screen printed signs to protest Trump and a potential Arpaio pardon. Some signs read "Don’t Give Up,” others are adorned with more colorful language.

Maria Castro is a Community Organizer at Puente Human Rights Movement. Castro said there is a lot of anger in the community and a pardon from Trump would be a slap in the face to those in the community that have fought to see the former Sheriff held accountable. But she said their struggle is larger than Joe Arpaio.

"For us the work doesn’t end with a court date. It doesn’t end with a sentencing, it doesn’t end with a pardon, it continues and we’re going to continue fighting," Castro said.

Ceremonial performers gathered in the communal hall at Puente to the sound of a drum. On this night they dance. On Tuesday, once again, they’ll march.

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