Arizona Sheriff Can’t Detain Suspected Illegals Amid Case

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the sheriff’s office of Maricopa County, Arizona, can’t detain people solely on the suspicion that they are illegal immigrants while a civil-rights case is pending before a federal judge.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco said yesterday that a federal judge in Phoenix didn’t abuse his discretion with a Dec. 23 order that prohibited the sheriff’s office from detaining an individual “based only on knowledge or reasonable belief, without more, that the person is unlawfully present within the United States.”

U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow issued the preliminary injunction in a civil-rights class-action lawsuit brought by Latinos who allege that Arpaio and his deputies violated their constitutional rights with so-called saturation patrols that target Latino drivers and passengers.

The appellate court agreed that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim.

“Absent probable cause to arrest, a law enforcement officer may conduct an investigatory stop when that police officer reasonably suspects that the person apprehended is committing or has committed a crime,” the three-judge panel said. “We have long made clear that, unlike illegal entry, mere unauthorized presence in the United States is not a crime.”

Saturation Patrols

Snow in July presided over a trial, without a jury, on claims that Arpaio’s saturation patrols in and around Phoenix, which started in 2007 and have included hundreds of volunteer posse members, used pretextual traffic stops to arrest Latinos as part of a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The class-action lawsuit was brought on behalf of all Latinos who, since January 2007, have been stopped, detained, questioned or searched by the sheriff office’s agents in Maricopa County. Snow hasn’t issued a verdict or final judgment in the case.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising,” Timothy Casey, a lawyer who represents the sheriff’s office in the case, said of the appeal court ruling in a phone interview. “It always was an uphill battle.”

The unanimous opinion by the three-judge panel was written by Senior U.S. Circuit Judge John Wallace, nominated by Republican President Richard Nixon. The other two judges were Circuit Judge Susan Graber, nominated by Democratic President Bill Clinton, and Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon, also a Clinton nominee.

The underlying case is Melendres v. Arpaio, 07-02513, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix). The appeals court case is Melendres v. Arpaio, 12-15098, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

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