U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow Questions Maricopa County Sheriff's Office's Right to Detain People Based on Scant Evidence of Crime

Does the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office have the right to detain you if you seem to be violating one element of a criminal statute?

The office's lawyer, Tim Casey, is arguing with U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow over that question right now in this morning's hearing in the Melendres vs. MCSO racial-profiling case.

Casey says yes, the deputies can.

Snow is highly critical of the stance. He asks whether MCSO could detain him under a simple premise: "If you'll fix my doorknob, then I'll take you to lunch."

One of the elements to meet a violation of the state's human smuggling law, which the MCSO uses to bust illegal immigrants and is a key issue in the Melendres case, is whether the smuggling is a commercial transaction.

Snow gets Casey to agree that, in his example, the transaction is commercial.

Casey argues that the MCSO could detain him for the doorknob deal, in theory, but wouldn't because the investigating deputy wouldn't be acting reasonably.

Snow asks Casey why he shouldn't enjoin the MCSO from detaining people based on that "single element" idea.

Casey struggles to answer, but says he doesn't believe the judge could do that, because it would prevent the sheriff's office from carrying out its law enforcement duties.

Snow seems incredulous.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.