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Martha Shoffner: Innocent Until Proven Guilty or Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

Updated: Apr 13

A lot has happened since we broke the news Saturday night that State Treasurer Martha Shoffner had been arrested by the FBI (officially the biggest story in the history of The Arkansas Project, by the way, shattering the record that was set only a few weeks ago when we broke the news about constitutional carry).  At the time, it wasn’t clear why she had been placed in the Pulaski County jail. However, this lack of evidence did not stop two Arkansas political figures from simultaneously declaring our state treasurer innocent and guilty.

Former State Rep. Ed Garner weighed in on his Facebook page:

Martha Shoffner is innocent. That’s right. Innocent. Based on all the facts I know at the moment, all of the posts about corruption of the Dems and the attitude of being above the law, etc. are premature. And what are the facts? Well, I only know one and it’s all I need. It’s called the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution guarantees that Martha Shoffner is for the moment, innocent. And she will remain innocent until she is PROVEN guilty. In a week where Conservatives have railed at a government spun out of control, in violation of that bedrock document, we can only be sad at the arrest of Martha Shoffner. We must reserve our personal judgment until the courts render theirs. To go anywhere past simply sad is to place oneself at the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

This is a generous, but mistaken, perspective. Yes, courts are obligated to withhold judgment until the accused is proven guilty (beyond a reasonable doubt), but I don’t think that regular people (voters) are held to the same standard. I have a right to a personal opinion about Shoffner’s guilt or innocence. And as a taxpayer, I have a right to be outraged at her conduct previous to this arrest, which you could argue are grounds for removal from office apart from any other criminal charges. Caution is commendable and Mr. Garner is correct to encourage it, but voters and taxpayers can have opinions about a person’s guilt or innocence, even if a court has not yet ruled.

Then former Republican Party Chairman Dennis Milligan chimed in. Milligan, who is seeking the Treasurer’s office himself, called for Shoffner to resign from office, apparently because she had been arrested. In his statement, he said:

Arkansas is part of a country with the best legal system in the world. In this country anyone arrested is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Martha Shoffner is entitled to her day in court. However, I suspect that when she does have her day in court, Arkansans will not be happy with what they learn about the operation of that office.

This is a less-than-prudent urge to make Shoffner pay an even larger price than being arrested. It’s important to remember that the only thing we knew for sure at that point was that law enforcement officers believed they had the authority to arrest her. Assuming that Milligan’s demand for Shoffner’s resignation was in any way based on her arrest, such a demand seems overheated. When compared to this statement, the Garner approach appears more reasonable.

Now that Shoffner has made an official appearance in court, details of the charges are starting to emerge (she allegedly accepted a series of $6,000 cash payments, each delivered in a pie box). And in light of these charges, many high-profile Arkansas political figures are now calling for Shoffner’s resignation, plus a number of legislators of both parties. To their credit, many of them qualified their requests by saying something like: if the charges are true, she should resign. I agree.

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