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If a judge issues a writ to a sheriff department to arrest or evict someone and the sheriff department refuses to take action, what happens? Is it criminal for them to intentionally ignore a writ?

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    The first question is tricky. The second is usually "no" in the abstract. – ohwilleke Jul 5 '18 at 23:41
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One option is contempt proceedings, which may be initiated in this case of the Orange County CA sheriff. This can result in imprisonment, unless it is a federal matter and the President of the US pardons the sheriff. It would depend on the state's laws, but for example Montana's law, MCA 45-7-309 includes "purposely disobeying or refusing any lawful process or other mandate of a court", and Arizona has similar laws. In Nevada, which likewise has an analogous law against criminal contempt, also in NRS 248.130 requires the sheriff to execute the order or writ with due diligence, and if they do not, they are liable for all resulting damages. CA Penal Sec. 142 makes it a felony if

Any peace officer who has the authority to receive or arrest a person charged with a criminal offense and willfully refuses to receive or arrest that person

So the exact results depend on jurisdiction.

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  • The difficult part is that usually a writ is addressed to an entire agency (e.g. the Orange County Sheriffs Office), and not to an individual "peace officer", so the judge would have to figure out who is responsible to assigning individual peace officers to the writ and either hold that person in contempt for not making that assignment, or hold the assigned person in contempt if an assignment was made but not carried out. It would be a defense that, for example, the work load in the department was too great to make it possible to serve all of the writs issued. – ohwilleke Jul 6 '18 at 2:27

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