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Judge Leaning Toward Bench Trial For Arpaio Criminal Contempt Case

Federal Courthouse
Jimmy Jenkins/KJZZ
file | staff
The Federal Courthouse in Phoenix.

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio was in federal court Wednesday for a pretrial hearing. Arpaio is facing criminal contempt of court charges from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Arpaio’s defense attorney Mel McDonald initially requested a jury trial to decide whether the former sheriff was in criminal contempt of court after violating orders from a federal judge.

“In a case like this, he was the elected sheriff for six terms. My feeling was that the jury of his peers should be the one to ultimately make that call,” McDonald said.

Lawyers for the Department of Justice called it an attempt to politicize the trial. DOJ attorney John Keller also stated there was no precedent for a defendant in Arpaio’s position to be granted a jury trial.

Judge Susan Bolton seemed to indicate she has the power to sentence Arpaio to longer than the previously stated six month cap if he was granted a jury trial and lost. Arpaio’s defense stated if that were the case, they would prefer a bench trial.

Bolton indicated she was leaning in that direction and said she would rule definitively on the status of the trial soon. The judge set a tentative trial date for April 25.

Jimmy Jenkins is a senior field correspondent at KJZZ and a contributor to NPR’s Election 2020 and Criminal Justice station collaborations. His work has been featured on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Here and Now, The Takeaway and NPR Newscasts.Originally from Terre Haute, Indiana, Jenkins has a B.S. in criminology from Indiana State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University.Much of his reporting has focused on the criminal justice system. Jenkins has reported on Tasers, body cameras, use of force, jail privatization, prison health care and the criminal contempt trial of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.