Prosecutors charge that Arpaio disobeyed a court order by continuing to make immigration arrests after he was ordered to stop -- and that his actions violated a court order made in a racial profiling case.
Arpaio contends that while he continued to carry out patrols despite the order, he did not intentionally disobey it, CNN affiliate KNXV reported.
If convicted in federal court, Arpaio could be sentenced to up to six months in jail.
Arpaio had served as the sheriff of Phoenix's Maricopa County for 24 years. But he failed to gain a seventh term in November when he lost to Democrat Paul Penzone, a former Phoenix policeman.
The criminal contempt charge
stems from a 2007 lawsuit brought by Hispanics who claimed Arpaio had discriminated against them.
In 2013, US District Judge G. Murray Snow ruled that Maricopa County's handling of people of Latino ancestry was not thorough enforcement of immigration laws -- but instead amounted to racial and ethnic profiling.
Snow last year asked the US Attorney's Office to file the criminal contempt charges against Arpaio and several subordinates.
Continued failure to follow the court's directions, along with false statements and attempts to obstruct further inquiry, justified filing criminal contempt charges, Snow wrote. US District Judge Susan Bolton in October ordered Arpaio to be tried on a criminal contempt charge.
Arpaio wants Sessions
The former sheriff wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions
to testify in the trial about federal immigration policy. His lawyers subpoened Sessions last month.
KNXV reported that "Arpaio's defense team argues Sessions' testimony would highlight the contradiction between a current federal immigration order and the 2011 court order Arpaio violated."
But the Justice Department
last week filed a motion to quash the subpoena.
It said that Sessions was a senator at all times relevant to the case and that Arpaio hasn't shown any extraordinary circumstances justifying the move.
Legal analyst James Goodnow, quoted by KNXV, said expects Arpaio to throw "everything up against the wall" and see "what sticks."
"Joe Arpaio is really following the lead of Donald Trump, at least when it comes to his legal defense strategy. He's blaming a lot on the Obama Justice Department. Of course, the irony here is that the judge that held Arpaio in contempt of court was a George W. Bush appointee," Goodnow said, according to KNXV.
Arpaio's Tent City
Arpaio, who has called himself "America's toughest sheriff," expressed opinions and carried out actions that brought praise from some but outrage from others.
He insisted that President Obama was not a US citizen and that his birth certificate was fraudulent -- a claim that has been thoroughly debunked.
In 1993, he established "Tent City"
-- an outdoor prison consisting of tents, saying it saved the taxpayers money despite criticism that the conditions were inhumane.
This spring, officials announced the closure of the area which had been a symbol of Arpaio's tenure as sheriff.
"This facility became more of a circus atmosphere for the general public," said Penzone said. "Starting today, that circus ends and these tents come down."