President Trump pardons former Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Updated:
President Trump and former sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Source: Associated Press) President Trump and former sheriff Joe Arpaio. (Source: Associated Press)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

In a move expected by many, President Donald Trump has pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, effectively forgiving his conviction for criminal contempt of court and ensuring that Arpaio will not serve jail time.

Since Arpaio's conviction last month, speculation about the possibility of a presidential pardon has run rampant.

The move came Friday evening, as President Trump pardoned the 85-year-old ex-sheriff of Arizona's Maricopa County. The president said Arpaio was a "worthy candidate" for a presidential pardon.

[READ MORE: GUILTY: Judge rules in former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's criminal contempt case]

[RELATED: Joe Arpaio reacts to his criminal conviction]

[SPECIAL SECTION: Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio]

About a week before his Aug. 22 visit to Phoenix, Trump told Fox News that he was "seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio."

"He has done a lot in the fight against illegal immigration," Trump said. "He's a great American patriot and I hate to see what has happened to him."

[RELATED: Pardon of Joe Arpaio would refute crux of immigration debate]

[RELATED: Trump mulls pardon of ex-sheriff with same immigration views]

[RELATED: As Trump considers Arpaio pardon, critics call out president]

It's a comment Arpaio appeared to welcome.

"A big injustice has been done against me and he's a pretty straight shooter," Arpaio responded. "I'm not going to turn it down, but I sure did not make any contacts to ask for it."

[RELATED: Arpaio wants to know why Trump has been silent on his case]

During his Aug. 22 rally, Trump insinuated that a pardon was coming, but not right away.

"So, was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?" Trump asked rhetorically. "He should have had a jury, but you know what? I'll make a prediction. I think he's gonna be just fine. OK?"

The clarification came after the applause died down. 

"But, but I'm won't do it tonight because I don't want to cause any controversy," he said. "Is that OK? All right? But Sheriff Joe can feel good."

Arpaio told our Jeff Van Sant that he did not get a heads up that the president would mention him during the rally, but was not surprised by it.

"I feel very good on his comments," he said.

Those who applauded Arpaio's conviction, -- called it "justice" -- were somewhat less than pleased at the possibility of a presidential pardon, calling it a slap in the face not only to the Valley's Hispanic population but to the entire American judicial system.

[RELATED: Motorist in class action suit sees ‘justice’ in Arpaio criminal contempt verdict]

"Arpaio was guilty of racial profiling, that a lot of folks describe as racism," activist Lydia Guzman said. "If Donald Trump is giving a pardon, it will show Donald Trump is accepting that kind of racism."

The ACLU agrees. 

"Make no mistake: This would be an official presidential endorsement of racism," Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director for the ACLU, said.

That's similar to the sentiment that lit up social media in the wake of Trump's Aug. 15 news conference in which he stated "there is blame on both sides," for the racial violence in Charlottesville, VA, equating the white supremacists on one side with the "alt-left" on the other side.

[WATCH RAW VIDEO: Trump says 'there is blame on both sides' for Charlottsville violence]

While Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton did not express an opinion on the pardon itself, he questioned the timing in a statement released a week ahead of Trump's visit

"If President Trump is coming to Phoenix to announce a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, then it will be clear that his true intent is to inflame emotions and further divide our nation,"  he said.

Three of Arizona's representative's in Congress -- all Democrats -- sent the president a letter urging him not to pardon Arpaio.

U.S. Reps. Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva and Tom O'Halleran said that all public officials should be held accountable when they commit crimes.

[READ MORE: Arizona Congress members urge President Trump not to pardon Joe Arpaio]

At the same time, Republican Reps. Trent Franks and Andy Biggs would like to see Trump move forward with a pardon for the former Maricopa County sheriff.

[READ MORE: AZ Rep. Andy Biggs would like to see Trump pardon Joe Arpaio]

Arpaio has been on Team Trump since the beginning

Arpaio has been a staunch Trump supporter since the early days of his presidential campaign, even speaking at the GOP convention in July 2016.

[RELATED: Sheriff Joe Arpaio endorses Donald Trump for president]

He said earlier this month that he would continue to support the president no matter what.

"He could forget my name, throw it in the swamp and I'm still with him to the end," Arpaio said.

[RELATED: Tactics, events that defined Joe Arpaio's career as sheriff]

[RELATED: 'America's toughest sheriff' says 'I did it my way' (Nov. 23, 2016)]

So, what exactly is a pardon?

"A pardon is an expression of the President’s forgiveness and ordinarily is granted in recognition of the applicant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime and established good conduct for a significant period of time after conviction or completion of sentence," according to Justice.gov. "It does not signify innocence."

Innocence, however, is exactly what Arpaio has maintained throughout his criminal trial and its aftermath. 

How do presidential pardons work?

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the president the power to pardon those convicted of federal crimes. It's wieldy power granted with a single sentence.

... he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

There are no guidelines beyond that, which means the president has wide latitude. Very wide. 

While most presidents issue pardons, also known as executive clemency, as their terms wind down – it's usually among the last actions they take as president – a sitting president can issue a pardon at any time and for pretty much any reason.

There are, however, some limits on the president's power to issue a pardon. It's not quite as "complete" as Trump tweeted on July 22.

The Constitution states that cannot offer a pardon "in cases of impeachment," and because the power is limited to "offenses against the United States," he can only pardon federal convictions, not state ones. So no, the president cannot pardon your DUI conviction.

There is a process by which people convicted of a federal offense can apply for a pardon, but there is a mandatory five-year waiting period. The clock starts ticking either upon release from incarceration or, if there is no incarceration, from the date of the conviction.

"The executive clemency process is intended to be accessible to all eligible applicants, whether or not they are represented by counsel, and is begun by filing the appropriate clemency application," explains the Justice.gov FAQ page on executive clemency. "In fact, most clemency applications are submitted by persons who are not represented by counsel." 

While many believe a presidential pardon erasing a person's criminal history, that's not actually the case, at least not literally.

"A presidential pardon does not erase or expunge the records of a conviction," explains Justice.gov. "Accordingly, a presidential pardon does not relieve the recipient from the obligation of disclosing his conviction in any circumstance where he is required to report that information. However, the pardoned person may include the information that a pardon has been granted and may present the warrant of pardon he has received as evidence of the pardon."

A pardon does lift the legal repercussions of a federal conviction, almost as if it never happened.

A president is not bound by recommendations made by the Office of the Pardon Attorney, which is where applications land, nor is he limited to those who apply.

Using the wide latitude offered by the Constitution, the president can pardon a person even if there has been no legal proceeding or investigation, and he can pardon that person for crimes that might have been committed over a span of time.

Trump's pardon means Arpaio will not serve jail time. He had faced up to six months for the misdemeanor conviction.

8 famous (or controversial) presidential pardons

The Whiskey Rebels in 1795

This was the first use of the presidential pardon. President George Washington pardoned two men who were convicted of treason and sentenced to death.

Brigham Young and his followers in 1858

President James Buchanan issued the pardon as part of a peace compromise between the Mormons and the federal government in the wake of the Utah War, a yearlong standoff between Young's Mormon followers and the U.S. Army over the territory.

Fitz John Porter in 1886

President Grover Cleveland pardoned the general for his role in the Civil War, including his loss at the Second Battle of Bull Run. That pardon came nearly two decades after all of the former Confederate soldiers -- every single one -- were unconditionally pardoned by President Andrew Johnson on Christmas Day 1868.

Eugene V. Debs in 1921

This one was not a full pardon, but President Warren G. Harding did commute Debs' sentence to time served. He had been charged with sedition and violation of the Espionage Act after giving a speech questioning American participation in World War I and encouraging people to resist the draft. He was sentenced to 10 years and released after more than two.

Jimmy Hoffa in 1971

One of America's best-known labor leaders, Hoffa was convicted in two trials in which he was sentenced to eight years in prison for jury tampering and another five for mail fraud and improper use of Teamer union money. He went into prison in 1967, but President Nixon commuted his sentence just a few years later. Three years after that, Hoffa vanished; his body has never been found.

Richard Nixon in 1974

This was a controversial one, to put it mildly. President Gerald Ford pardon Nixon just weeks after his resignation. The pardon spanned the length of time Nixon was in office, covering any federal crimes he "committed or may have committed or taken part in."

Patty Hearst in 2001

Kidnapped by a radical guerilla group, Hearst later said she voluntarily joined the group and took part in the armed robbery of a bank. She was captured by the FBI in September 1975 and sentenced to seven years in prison for that robbery. After 22 months, President Jimmy Carter commuted Hearst's sentence. He later asked President Bill Clinton to issue her a full pardon, which he did.

Roger Clinton in 2001

President Bill Clinton's younger brother was on the list of 140 pardons he issued before leaving office in January 2001. Roger Clinton had spent a year in prison after pleading guilty in 1984 to cocaine distribution charges.


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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