Ninth Circuit Finds Arpaio Verdict Void After Pardon

Published on February 27, 2020

In a unanimous decision, a Ninth Circuit panel found that the guilty verdict against former Sheriff Joe Arpaio “has no legal consequences” in light of his Presidential pardon, granting the request made by his attorney Jack Wilenchik at oral argument in the case last fall. A copy of the Ninth Circuit’s Opinion can be found here.

Mr. Wilenchik offered the following statement:

The Court gave us exactly what we wanted, which is a finding that the guilty verdict is void (it “has no legal consequences”) and that Mr. Arpaio has no “conviction” as a matter of law. The trial court’s final order had indicated the opposite; it suggested that the guilty verdict may, or even should, be used against Arpaio  in future proceedings (see footnote three of the final order, Dkt. 251, inter alia).

The Ninth Circuit expressly found that the guilty verdict has “no future preclusive effects,” which is what we asked for at oral argument on the appeal. This has exactly the same effect as an order “vacating” the finding of guilt, which is what we had asked the trial judge for. Strictly, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision not to enter an order “vacating” the verdict (and its decision to just dismiss the case), but in doing so the Ninth Circuit was clear that this is because the guilty verdict was “already” void in light of the pardon, and that there was no actual “conviction” in the case to vacate, as a matter of law.

The Ninth Circuit’s opinion (which is for publication) has broader consequences. It means that when the President issues a pardon before a final criminal “conviction” (judgment), but after a guilty verdict, the pardon effectively “erases” the verdict as a matter of law. (The finding of guilt has no “future preclusive effects” and “no legal consequences.”) The D.C. Circuit’s earlier (2001) opinion concerning President Clinton’s pardon of Archie Schaffer had reached a similar conclusion, by finding that if a pardon occurs before the case is “over” (i.e. before it has gone through appeal), then any finding of guilt—including an actual conviction, which Arpaio never had—is moot and without legal effect.