But when the search warrant produced not one more shred of evidence, that should have been a signal for the county attorney to slow down and re-evaluate the entire case — not because of Hoffner’s status as a coach, but because the initial evidence raised more questions than it answered.
Blue Earth County prosecutors pursued the charges anyway, and proffered adamant arguments in a case that seemed to get flimsier with each development.
Part of what the county did gather for evidence turned out to be wrong. The county’s case included a reported statement from an investigator that Hoffner directed his children in the video, another key criteria for child pornography charges. And while that turned out to be completely untrue, the prosecution not only failed to correct its mistake, it failed to acknowledge it.
That failure erodes trust in the county attorney’s office, a critical factor in the exercise of justice. That trust as critical factor was noted by the late and longtime Anoka County Attorney Robert W. Johnson in a 2002 speech to the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, an organization whose board of directors included Arneson.
Johnson, a one-time president of the National District Attorneys Association, told the Minnesota Association of County Attorneys: “Probably the biggest trust that you have to demonstrate is whether your word is good. The trust of whether, what you present to the courts is a true and honest reflection, is a critical, critical part of the process.”
The case Blue Earth County presented to the judge fell short of that standard.
Hoffner’s defense attorneys met with prosecutors to go over these significant issues and argued sensibly for dropping the charges. A man’s reputation was at stake. His family was traumatized. The county’s case was weak and flawed. The county attorney’s office marched onward anyway.