The Justice Department is charging Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio with criminal contempt-of-court for defying a judge's orders to stop detaining undocumented immigrants without legal basis, prosecutors announced on Tuesday.
In December 2011, the anti-immigrant law enforcement official was given a federal court order barring his agency from imposing federal immigration law after suspicion of racial profiling. However, prosecutors allege Arpaio, 84, violated the order for at least 18 months.
Arpaio has acknowledged breaking the order but alleges it was unintentional.
Prosecutor John Keller said the sheriff faces a misdemeanor contempt charge, which is comparable to a criminal complaint. If convicted, however, Arpaio could face six months behind bars.
The sheriff’s lawyer, Mel McDonald, says his client will not be arrested. According to him, Arpaio will plead not guilty.
"We believe the sheriff, being an elected official, should be judged by his peers," McDonald said.
Arpaio was not present at Tuesday's court hearing.
Officials, however, are still considering an obstruction of justice charge against the sheriff, which could result in graver punishments, including losing his position.
Arpaio, who is up for re-election, has been a big supporter of Donald Trump, appearing alongside the Republican nominee several times.