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Martha Shoffner Seeks Post-Conviction Acquittal

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 25, 2014 3:58 PM

Lawyers for Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner argued before U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes that Shoffner should be acquitted on 14 bribery and extortion charges.

Holmes withheld judgment on Shoffner's earlier request to be ordered free on grounds that prosecutors didn't prove that any federal laws were broken. But Holmes opted to entertain the argument only if the jury returned any guilty verdicts, The Associated Press reports.

A jury convicted Shoffner last week, clearing the way for both sides to present written arguments to Holmes on why she should or should not be acquitted.

No Harm, No Foul Argument

Advancing a "no harm, no foul" kind of rationale, Shoffner's attorneys are claiming that an acquittal is warranted because prosecutors never established that Shoffner harmed the U.S. government by accepting $36,000 from Steele Stephens, a bond dealer who did business with the state, The AP reports.

"Not a single witness testified that there was an agreement that money was exchanged for official acts," lawyer Grant Ballard wrote.

Ballard claims Stephens gifted the money to help Shoffner during a rough patch -- after her mom died and after she lost her apartment. Though Stephens delivered some of the moola at the state Capitol and some, in a pie box (!), at Shoffner's home, she's sticking to her story that she didn't break the law.

But things look mighty suspicious. Stephens bagged a larger share of state business -- earning $2.4 million in commissions while working with Shoffner's office -- after his spirit of generosity toward Shoffner kicked in, when he was giving her money in $6,000 increments. He earned twice as much as business as any other 10 or so dealers approved to do business with the treasurer's office. But Shoffner claims the monetary gifts did not influence her.

Shoffner's attorneys say the Arkansas Ethics Commission should have addressed the payments, not federal prosecutors. Her guilt, according to her lawyers, turns on the actual impact of her actions.

Actual vs. Probable Impact on Interstate Commerce

According to Ballard, the Eighth Circuit previously ruled that in order to violate the Hobbs Act, the acts must include an "actual effect on interstate commerce, not just a probable or potential impact."

In this case, "no government witness established that interstate commerce was affected 'by robbery or extortion,'" Ballard wrote. He writes that the payments were made by Stephens as an individual and did not enter interstate commerce. But prosecutors say interstate commerce was affected because Arkansas bonds were traded across state lines and the state invested at least some federal grant money in them.

We'll have to wait and see how this verbal sparring over interstate commerce pans out.

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