SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court is considering a request by the self-proclaimed "toughest sheriff in America" to reverse a lower-court decision barring his deputies from detaining people based solely on the suspicion that they're illegal immigrants.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it would rule later after hearing from lawyers representing Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio on Thursday.
The ACLU and other attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in 2007 alleging Arpaio's Maricopa County Sheriff's Office made traffic stops solely because Hispanics were driving.
A federal judge in December ordered Arpaio's department to refrain from conducting such traffic stops while the class action lawsuit was being considered. Arpaio appealed, arguing his deputies had probable cause to make the stops.
The San Francisco-based court will consider the narrow question of a preliminary injunction while a trial court in Phoenix is considering the merits of the entire lawsuit.
Both sides are awaiting the verdict of U.S. District Judge Murray Snow after a seven-day trial without a jury ended Aug. 2.
The Latino group claims Arpaio's deputies pulled over some vehicles only to make immigration status checks during regular traffic patrols and the sheriff's 20 special immigration patrols.
They also accuse the sheriff of ordering some of the patrols not based on reports of crime but rather on letters from Arizonans who complained about people with dark skin congregating in an area or speaking Spanish.
Arpaio has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying his deputies only stop people when they think a crime has been committed and that he wasn't the person who picked the location of the immigration patrols.
Snow's verdict could render the 9th Circuit's decision unnecessary. Snow hasn't indicated when he would rule.
The lawsuit marks the first case in which the sheriff's office has been accused of systematically racially profiling Latinos, and will serve as a precursor for a similar yet broader civil rights lawsuit filed against Arpaio in May by the U.S. Department of Justice.
There has never been a finding by a court that Arpaio's office has racially profiled Latinos, though a case that made such an allegation was settled last year for $200,000 without an admission of wrongdoing by the sheriff's office.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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