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After Aaron Swartz's Death, the Focus Now Falls On the Prosecutors 430

Posted by samzenpus
from the who's-to-blame dept.
Marcion writes "Journalists and commentators are now questioning the role of Massachusetts prosecutors Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann in the suicide of Aaron Swartz and whether they levied disproportionate charges in order to boost their own political profiles, despite being warned he was a suicide risk. Meanwhile White House petitions to remove Ortiz and Heymann have already received tens of thousands of signatures. Should these prosecutors be investigated for their actions regarding Swartz?"
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After Aaron Swartz's Death, the Focus Now Falls On the Prosecutors

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:48PM (#42611505)

    Wow. From what you're saying, you really know absolutely nothing about this story at all, do you?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:48PM (#42611513)
    Whether the person is a suicide risk should not be a factor in the charges that are brought.
  • by runeghost (2509522) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:48PM (#42611515)
    Focusing on those two (whose behavior does indeed seem pretty despicable) is going to accomplish very little in the long term. Instead, lets revamp some of the fundamentals of our so-called Justice System. Stop letting prosecutors pick and choose who to charge at their own whim, with little to zero oversight. Punish prosecutors who bring charges in bad faith. End the system of plea-bargains and return to the jury trials that are supposed to be the core of our criminal law.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:52PM (#42611549)

    Putting the actual tragedy aside; it's great that people are talking about the bully tactics from US prosecution. However people need to understand that this probably is fairly systemic with a system that cares about results more than it cares about justice. It's great that people are discussing the subject, but making an example of two of the players is just a cheap trick that stops people taking a long and hard look at the game thats being played.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:53PM (#42611553)

    Maybe the issue is that he was suicidal for years and never dealt with what caused his severe emotional trauma.

    [citation needed]

  • by Comrade Ogilvy (1719488) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:54PM (#42611555)

    So if we cannot prove that there was direct causation, then are the prosecutor's actions a-okay? N. O.

    People in a position of authority or trust should not be treating other human beings like dirt, because they think they can get away with it. I do not care if they are a DoJ suit or an asshole roommate named Dharun Ravi.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:58PM (#42611601)

    Let's not use the unknowables of the suicide in a rush to judgement. Let's wind back the clock to the day before Aaron killed himself and ask a very simple question: WTF?! As so many have already pointed out, there are so many individuals involved in so many schemes that have had REAL NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES that it is just unimaginable that they would have prioritized this case as they had, and that they would be threatening to lock up somebody whose actions were much more like civil disobedience than criminal mischief, and even less like criminal behavior.

    When prosecutors prioritize cases based on their ability to really trounce the little guy, rather than to take down the big guy, we have a problem and need a new batch of prosecutors. Aaron's suicide, if it was related, only makes this case the more tragic, but no less relevant.

  • by Zimluura (2543412) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:03PM (#42611653)

    Well, even though he was young at 26, he was facing 35 years in prison. So he would have possibly gotten out when he was 61, maybe earlier with good behavior, but who knows.

    options:
    a) End your life at 26, you'll be remembered well by your accomplishments and won't have to suffer.
    b) A stressful slog through a court case that will leave you in jail for a very long time. In jail the boredom is broken periodically by suffering. If you survive jail, you'll get out, when you're elderly, and then maybe you'll be able to re-acclimate to society after you've spent more than half your life a prisoner.

  • Shameful. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oztiks (921504) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:03PM (#42611657)

    Oh my, here we go with dumb ass precedence all over again. See my post on philosophies perpetuated by the GP here [slashdot.org].

    You do realise radio DJ's are far more harmless than prosecutors? I.E DJ's aren't out to jail you? You also realise that these are two completely separate issues? and that they pose very little in common with each other?

    I think a phone call from your lawyer telling you that what you have to look forward too in life is being locked behind a set steel bars until your 56 and that you and your family owe a $1million debt to the US govt.

    This is a pretty compelling reason to top yourself. Also consider how driven this guy is at wanting to make a difference in the world and actually contribute. This news is kind of a bit of an overall set back yeah?

  • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:03PM (#42611659)
    The main issue is that the prosecutor was an asshole bully and threatened Swartz with 35 years in the big house for downloading publicly-funded scientific articles, and proceeded full speed ahead even after JSTOR asked them to drop it. There was no prosecutorial discretion -- they were threatening to throw the book at him for what was at best a trespassing misdemeanor. Those are the actions of a compassion-less psychopath, and I for one don't think anyone like that deserves to be a Federal prosecutor. We deserve better. So to a certain extent, Swartz's suicide is a completely separate issue.
  • A better tribute (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:03PM (#42611661)

    I think a much better tribute to Swartz spirit and memory than retribution would be making some of his goals into reality.
    This is a fantastic essay on the subject: http://blogs.swarthmore.edu/burke/2013/01/14/now/
    It's well past time for scholarly knowledge to be openly accessible to everyone.

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:03PM (#42611663)
    No, we are blaming a prosecutor for abusing her authority and bullying a citizen in order to promote herself and in the process of doing that, which is illegal and immoral by itself, contributing to the causes that pushed him to suicide.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:04PM (#42611665)

    It's a material fact about our criminal justice system that prosecutors put people they know to be innocent away for life. Check out the Innocence Project for the grotesque details.

    The reason I bring that up is because it dramatically illustrates the power and fearlessness of ever being called to account that all DAs have. The immunity from any fear of prosecution of their own crimes basically puts them above the law- a fact that doesn't go unnoticed by them. They can literally do anything they want no matter how unbalanced or depraved so long as they can dress it up as prosecutorial "zeal".. They know that the general population doesn't track on the details of cases and ALL families of accused say their prosecution is unjust , so that doesn't matter either. They can do whatever they want, however they want for any reason they want. They suppress exculpatory evidence as a matter of course- basically they play the role of good ole' Buford T Justice where they decide who's guilty and create through whatever means necessary the evidence to prove it.

    Try being a minority caught in the clutches of our system. Why do you think so many poor African Americans are so totally checked out, fatalistic, knowing and cynical when it comes to matters of criminal justice? Because they know no one cares if they see anything like justice or not and that there is no real justice or just cause , there's "just us" and "just cuz" for them.

    So Aaron got caught in THAT system and the video of him attempting to hide his face with a bike helmet enraged and incensed one of these DAs who had the full cooperation of the sociopaths in the upper administration of MIT.

    It's a good reason to never convict / indict anyone for anything that might lead to jail. Jail is basically sado-hell where society throws people it's mad at without a shred or a care about what happens to them in there or when they get out either.

    The only people you should ever indict or convict are very violent people who just cannot control themselves and will surely re-offend the first chance they get. Everyone else should walk.

    As a side note, it's a fact also that they won't put scientists or programmers on juries because they are too good at thinking up potentially exculpatory alternative hypothesis and more immune to DAs wide-eyed narratives of moral outrage strung together with circumstantial doo-dads and character assassination. Juries are largely composed of retirees and gung ho Law and Order fans.

    Just the threat of jail surely turned Aaron around a long time ago. Did that DA give a shit? Oh fuck no- he's bucking for bigger office, a better job, maybe political office. Anyone who puts a bike helmet over his face knows he (age what??? 24?) is doing something naughty , and now, as Lessig said, "we get to nuke you. "

    No indictments. No convictions. Not until things change in this fucking country. Fuck you Conn. Fuck you asshole DAs. Too bad you need us to rubber stamp your dirty work before you can kill again. Denied. Denied denied denied denied. Fuck you.

  • by UltraZelda64 (2309504) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:07PM (#42611687)

    And if the person was not a suicide risk? Then the person still should not be slammed into the ground for such a petty "crime," if you could even call it that.

    Just a couple of douchebags stretching a case to make it seem as bad as possible for extra fame, money and brownie points. Nothing more. Business as usual in the government.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:07PM (#42611689) Journal

    Now are blaming Aaron Swartz's death on everyone and anything. Was it MIT? Was it the government? Was it him being bullied by them?

    Well, this sort of "who done it?" finger pointing isn't very productive. And that's because suicide is rarely a single factor. Even when the person provides a suicide note that blames one single thing or person, there's often other contributing factors. So I think the discussion here is what was the major contributing factor. It sort of reminds me of "Who Killed Davey Moore" by Bob Dylan [youtube.com] where a boxer is killed in a ring and as he examines everyone who participated in the event shrugs any responsibility.

    In the strictest sense of responsibility, we here at Slashdot that turned our gaze upon this story and turned it into a national news story that was part of the 24 hour news cycle, we might have had something to do with it by putting even more pressure on the prosecutor and Swartz and everyone involved. Some of these things are hard if not impossible to know.

    At the end of the day, it looks safe to blame some of his actions on the prosecutors for being overzealous but I would caution everyone not to put the blame entirely on them or even mostly on them. You should not send the message that suicide is an acceptable way to "get back" at someone or to "really show your enemies and make them sorry." Vocally blame the prosecutors all you want, this is America. But I don't think it's healthy for us to charge them with anything lest other people think that suicide with targeted blame is a great way to make high ranking officials culpable of something.

    What I wish Swartz would have done was to step up to the challenge laid before him and see it through. Start a kickstarter for legal fees, seek help from the EFF, do something. Instead he did nothing and turned himself into nothing. If you're prepared to take such extensive means to reach certain ends then you had better be prepared to face the consequences of those actions, regardless of what they turn out to be. If the consequences are trumped up, you'll get your day in court and, like so many arrested during the civil rights era, if you're right you'll be remembered fondly in the annals of history. Instead he's a corpse and a fond memory of his contributions. Indeed incredibly sad but also by his own hand.

    The prosecutors did not kill Swartz. But they contributed to a situation that caused him to take his own life. They should feel sorrow for that but I see no wrong. Attack the laws they charged him with if you attack something. But if they over charged him, his day in court should have shown that. Now we'll never know.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:16PM (#42611747)

    Just a couple of douchebags stretching a case to make it seem as bad as possible for extra fame, money and brownie points. Nothing more. Business as usual in the government.

    Maybe the moral of the story here is: Business as usual shouldn't be. Ruining someone's life for political gain has consequences. Death, for example. And for people who do this for personal gain rather than to correct an actual injustice... perhaps they're the ones that need to feel the hurt.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:24PM (#42611809)

    So why did these two pick this case to bite into like a pit-bull and not let go? They had political ambitions . . . who were their sponsors and donators? And what were the financial interests of those mentors . . . ? Did that affect their decision to aggressively prosecute this case?

  • by meta-monkey (321000) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:27PM (#42611841) Journal

    Doesn't seem like an either-or proposition to me. Why not do both? Make an example out of the prosecutors who turn minor complaints or annoyances into massive criminal cases by firing them and ruining their careers. When they whine, "But this is ridiculous and completely out of proportion with what we did! We were just doing what the system is set up for us to do!" we might get some new allies in the fight to change the system.

  • by UltraZelda64 (2309504) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:28PM (#42611853)

    Unfortunately, whatever the government does to them, it will not be anywhere near good enough. These people used their power and tried to crush him to the fullest extent that they could manage to squeeze out of the words of the law, distorting actual facts to improve their case. The only judgment that I would say would be fitting to their crime would be to as obscenely unrealistic and disproportional as they were to Aaron. Unfortunately... the chances that they themselves will actually receive such a fitting judgment for their "crime" of far-beyond-reasonable judgment on another U.S. citizen will are pretty low... they will probably be treated like little angels, with the government slapping them on the wrist and then kissing it for them.

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:35PM (#42611931)
    Oh, you see no wrong with prosecutors charging a person with 35 years for what Aaron did? You see no wrong with a system where a federal prosecutor can bankrupt a person and ruin his life even if he is innocent by just charging him with something? You see no wrong with a system that allows prosecutors to blackmail innocent people into deals because the sentences for even minor crimes can be stretched into decades, and with psychopathic people in positions of power, like this prosecutor, abusing this system for personal promotion? You need to open your eyes wide, my friend, you may be impressed by what you will see.
  • by PerMolestiasEruditio (1118269) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:38PM (#42611965)

    The criminal justice system in the USA appears to be almost entirely geared towards extracting more tax money to pay for bigger and more heavily populated prisons and building name recognition for politicians and prosecutors, and as a result is paying a colossal and unnecessary and is a world wide laughing stock. I and a lot of my friends would not consider living in the USA as a result of this Criminal-Justice system run amok, scary thuggish police, (dreadfully overpriced yet widely inaccessible health care system is also another black mark).

    The Criminal-Justice system needs to be reformed towards delivering the best results for society as a whole, not venal special interest groups. Disqualify anyone within the Criminal Justice industry (prosecutors, police, guards) from running for public office for at least a few years after they end employment, also disallow campaign contributions from private prisons, and guard+police unions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:44PM (#42612021)

    "You've let Lessig and Aaron's family shift the debate away from all the obnoxious things Aaron did, and play him as the victim."

    If you face 35 years in prison for certain actions, I can almost guarantee that the prosecution won't use the word "obnoxious" to describe your alleged crimes. If the crimes allegedly committed can be described as "obnoxious", they are almost certainly misdemeanors. Hence, the point.

  • by timholman (71886) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:44PM (#42612023)

    I know the sexier story is that MIT and the government killed Swarts. Just like it was sexier when those Australian DJs killed that nurse. But the reality is that suicide is a major, I believe the biggest killer, for people Swartz's age. So this is not an anomaly death for his age group, it's a common occurrence in society. Mental health is the issue here. Not his trial for 'hacking' or whatever.

    I know I'm going to burn some karma for saying this, but Slashdot readers need to get a grip. I remember similar calls for investigating the prosecutors when Hans Reiser was indicted, and how the Slashdot crowd was screaming for blood about the injustice when he was found guilty ... right up to the point where Reiser led the police to his wife's body.

    Aaron Swartz made two big mistakes. The first was using MIT's network to download the JSTOR documents, and evading their attempts to stop him. Stop and think why MIT didn't try to curtail the Feds' prosecution: Swartz betrayed their trust by doing what he did. How would you feel if you suddenly learned that someone you trusted, and allowed access to your system, was using your network to download material in a way that was guaranteed to get some powerful people up in arms? If you're going to involve other parties in your act of civil disobedience, you should show them enough respect to ask them first.

    His second mistake (in my opinion) was listening to the sort of faux bravado that is so prevalent on Slashdot. "Fight them, Aaron! Information wants to be free! Don't cop a plea!" I've read that he was offered a six month sentence in a plea bargain. Rather than take that offer (which would have given him maybe four to five months in a minimum security facility) and come out smelling like a rose for his act of civil disobedience, he decided to fight it out against an opponent with essentially unlimited resources. And where are all the armchair cheerleaders when you're the one walking into the courtroom? Nowhere to be found.

    I'm reminded of the vicious attacks on George Hotz (Geohot) by the armchair brigades when he backed down from Sony's threats. Hotz was smart; he realized how futile it would be to ruin his life in a battle he could not win. Sony offered him an easy way out, and Hotz wisely took it. Too bad Swartz (or his attorneys) didn't see fit to do likewise.

    Swartz had a history of severe mental depression. Did his impending trial impact his mental state? No doubt. But when you turn down a plea bargain from the Feds, you can bet your bottom dollar they are going to put you through the wringer. In the end, it was Swartz's decision to abuse MIT's network, Swartz's decision to turn down the plea bargain, and Swartz's decision to end his life - not theirs.

    Aaron Swartz was a bright and talented guy with a history of mental depression who made some bad choices, the worst of which was to commit suicide. And the ultimate irony? The JSTOR papers that "wanted to be free"? At any time, anyone could have gone to a local public university library, sat down in front of a terminal, and read those articles to his or her heart's content. That's what so ultimately ridiculous about this whole unfortunate mess.

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:59PM (#42612151)
    But the first step for this is accountability, and that require at least some focus on those two. It is past time for public servants to understand they are servants of the public and not our overlords.
  • by fredprado (2569351) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:05PM (#42612229)
    Only 3% of the defendants dop not accept a plea bargain. Do you know why? Because the possible sentences are ridiculous. Decades of punishment for relatively small crimes. In the face of the possibility of spending decades in jail and bankrupting yourself trying to defend your case, chances are you will accept a deal, even if you are innocent.

    When was the last time the government (or anyone else for truth's sake) was right 97% of the time? Do you really think US prosecutors are? Isn't it more likely that a lot of innocent people are in jail right now because of this rotten and distorted judicial system?

    It is no wonder that US has the highest incarcerated population in the world, per capita and in absolute values. Much more people are caged there than in other "blooming democracies" like China, North Korea or Iran.
  • by fredprado (2569351) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:11PM (#42612277)
    When you are the only one that understands something chances are you didn't understand it at all. It is not a prosecutor's job to bring ridiculous charges and ask for ridiculous sentences for relatively trivial crimes, especially when the victim explicitly asked for the charges to be dropped (which JSTOR did).

    A responsible prosecutor job is to bring adequate and proportional charges against people who committed crimes. A responsible prosecutor job is to protect the interests of society as a whole, by knowing when to uphold the law and when to drop charges when there is no benefit to society in pursuing them. That was not what was done here.
  • Re:Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:13PM (#42612305)

    It's a catch-22. Prosecutors are indeed highly succeptible to political trends and the fix isn't clear. We want them to be held accountable to the voters but then if they only get their job via the voters politics comes into play again. Even if not directly elected the prosecutor's bosses are elected. Grand juries can oversee things but most of the time grand juries just rubberstamp whatever a prosecutor asks.

    Prosecutors have a much higher percentage of scumbags in their ranks than judges, and I'm not really sure why. I suspect it's because a prosecutor's job is just a stepping stone to more ambitious political office, whereas a judgeship is more often just a step on the ladder to a better judgeship. Possibly also because judges are expected to at least pay lip service to being fair whereas a prosecutor's job appears to be to assume that the defendant is automatically guilty.

  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:22PM (#42612395)

    It seems to be the standard operating procedure. Threaten the worst possible thing the law allows and wait for the defendant to cop to a lesser charge, then put this in your book of wins. Prosecutors without wins will lose their job, regardless of whether or not the wins were justified.

  • by robbak (775424) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:29PM (#42612453) Homepage

    What would you think is an appropriate penalty for what Aaron did? He connected a computer to a public network, and retrieved publicly available data. He may have done this in a way and to an extent that the managers of these networks were uncomfortable with. Personally, I'd say that banning him from the library would have been too harsh.

    Demanding jail time and felony convictions? It is so far beyond the pale that I think we are to be permitted our anger!

    And, yes, he could have read them, one by one? But could he have done a global search using arbitrarily complex queries? Fed them into a neural network? Indeed, done anything actually interesting with them? Not unless he got heaps of them onto a hard drive.

  • by fredprado (2569351) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:41PM (#42612547)
    No we don't need to get a grip. Whenever we see injustice we have all the right to feel outrage, and I pity you if you are so apathetic that even the thought of people's non acceptance is so repulsive to you.

    No matter how much you try to spin it, what was done to him was a great injustice. His punishment was by far disproportionate to the "crimes" he committed and his life was ruined by a system that threatens to ruin many more people's lives, a system that becomes more powerful and authoritative as time goes, and which is fueled by the apathy and acceptance of people like you.
  • by mellon (7048) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:41PM (#42612551) Homepage

    Hans Reiser MURDERED HIS WIFE. Aaron Swartz ran wget -R on a web site he was permitted to access. Yup. Practically the same thing. You are so right.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:49PM (#42612607) Journal

    whereas a prosecutor's job appears to be to assume that the defendant is automatically guilty.

    I think this is really what this was. They assume not only that the perp is automatically guilty, but guilty of everything, with aggravating circumstances. I would imagine there should be a level of discretion involved, perhaps not prosecuting when the injured party asks you to drop the case...but I could be mistaken.

  • by adri (173121) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:05PM (#42612717) Homepage Journal

    Because it's 2012 and this is the internet. I shouldn't have to visit a public library to access data that by definition should've been publicly available in the first place.

    And the argument that indexing the papers is kind of silly. It's 2012, there's a large variety of indexing software out there. It wouldn't be too difficult to grab that public data and create a public index and donation funded website (like say, wikipedia) that provided access to that information.

    Adrian

  • by Maow (620678) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:05PM (#42612723) Journal

    When I see stories like this, I'm glad that in Canada at least, we do not vote for sheriff, crown prosecutors (aka district attorneys), dog catchers, nor judges.

    It seems that leads to a spiralling who's-toughest-on-crime "arms race" which goes beyond reason fairly quickly.

    (Yes, I know that higher-level judges are appointed in USA.)

  • by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:09PM (#42612765) Journal

    You didn't answer his question.

    What kind of punishment do you think Aaron Swartz deserved? When answering, please remember that JSTOR's opinion was "none".

  • by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:24PM (#42612863) Journal

    Was the room he entered locked? No.

    Was it in a publicly accessible area? Yes.

    Were there any signs on the door saying "employees only" or anything to that effect? No.

    Did JSTOR want the case dropped? Yes.

    Did he have to agree to any terms of service in order to use the network or JSTOR? No.

    No one, and I mean no one, is saying he shouldn't be held accountable for what he did wrong. But if you were caught jaywalking and the prosecutor wanted to send you to prison, I have a feeling that you might have a problem with that.

  • by davester666 (731373) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:25PM (#42612871) Journal

    Political gain?

    This crap is happening all over the US.

    Prosecutors are reviewed by:
    1) convictions in court
    2) guilty pleas prior to court

    By piling on as many marginal charges as possible prior to trail, it increases the chances that they will get a guilty plea on some fraction of the charges prior to trial. And if it goes to trial, if the jury isn't totally convinced of the most serious charges, they are more likely to still convict on lesser charges because of the underlying presumption that totally innocent people don't go to court [so it's still a partial win for the prosecutor].

    Simply put, right now there is every incentive for the prosecutor to load up the charges and none for keeping them 'reasonable'.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:34PM (#42612939)

    This is intended to be informational, and I'm happy to be corrected in outline or points by prosecutors out there...

    The best current practice for prosecutors is to file all possible charges that can be filed for a single crime, and then hope one or more sticks when the case is presented to a jury.

    It should be one crime, one charge, but that's not required by law, so they interpret this type as shotgunning as within their requirement t prosecute to the full extent of the law. Don't like it? Change the law. Your congress-critter won't change the law? Change congress-critters -- this you CAN do.

    The prosecutorial carrot: When they know that they are being a dick, they typically offer a deal, which always requires a guilty plea, but which may only involve a fine and/or a suspended sentence + parole. The actual resulting penalty can be negotiated down, but the plea is always non-negotiable.

    The prosecutorial stick: We will prosecute you on all charges, and ask for the penalties to be applied consecutively. You should be out about the time Moller Air Cars are in widespread use, i.e. past the end of your life.

    The only question the prosecutor owes us an answer to at this point is whether or not they were aware of the depression, and declined to enforce a suicide watch. If so, that is criminal negligence, malfeasance of office, involuntary manslaughter, and -- well, whatever litany of charges the prosecutor that charges them thinks can be made to stick, for the one crime of not setting a suicide watch on a known suicide risk.

    It's a game of chicken, and if neither side blinks, then it goes to trial, and a judge informs and instructs the jury on matters of law, and the jury gets to decide.

    When it goes to the jury, then

    • that's

    where the justice system can, via the jury, decide if the statutory to be applied to a person they have found to be guilty of one or more of the charges is unreasonable. If they do, then they can vote to find the defendant not guilty, regardless of technical guilt, in order to prevent the enforcement of the statutory penalties, over which the judge has very little control, beyond imposing them and then either subtracting out time served, to nullify them, or suspending the sentence. At which point there may be judicially or statutorily imposed parole on the suspended sentence, which the judge can waive in the first case, or which the judge can also suspend, in the second case.

    Either way, there are plenty of options apart from taking the deal: (1) run - worked for Assange, (2) off the prosecutor - a bit extreme, but less so than offing yourself, (3) go to trial and win, (4) attempt to negotiate the deal lower, then attempt to obtain a sentence of time served or a suspended sentence, (6) go to trial and lose, but file an immediate appeal, requesting suspension of the sentence pending the outcome of the appeal, (7) attempt to delay the trial until the prosecutor can be thrown out by an election/recall election thanks to political activists on Slashdot and elsewhere, (...) ...

    The point is, he was by no means at the end of his rope, and it had to be the depression or other mental health issues attributable to Swartz himself, since this was not a forced check leading to a checkmate, and the game was by no means over.

  • Endemic Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dcollins (135727) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:42PM (#42612993) Homepage

    The problem of prosecutorial overreach (disproportionate charges) is not remotely special to the Aaron Swartz case; it happens millions of times every year across this country, in fact in every criminal case that occurs. What is it now, 95% of all criminal cases and imprisonments fail to go to a jury trial? That's because the prosecutors can pile on centuries-worth of charges without any check or restraint, and the expected value of any jury trial becomes automatically negative (i.e., plea bargain at terms dictated by the prosecutor). I think it's close to the top problem with the USA; it's directly the cause of us having the highest incarceration rate in the world, ever in history. Every time someone talks about laws as "tools" for police and prosecutors it's code-language for that fact of prosecutors can charge anyone they take a disliking to with centuries of possible charges to crush them, economically and spiritually.

  • by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus.slash ... m ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:50PM (#42613039) Homepage Journal

    No, we are blaming a prosecutor for abusing her authority and bullying a citizen in order to promote herself and in the process of doing that, which is illegal and immoral by itself, contributing to the causes that pushed him to suicide.

    What did the prosecutor do that was illegal? Cite a statute, or withdraw your slander.

    The prosecutor could have used discretion and gone for a lesser charge, or even a nolo proseque agreement, and probably should have... But we can disagree with her decision without simultaneously spreading malicious lies.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DeadCatX2 (950953) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @11:57PM (#42613093) Journal

    In case you missed it...JSTOR, the injured party in question, asked them to drop the case.

    Charging people with felonies when the victim said "no dude, it's cool, no harm no foul" shows a stunning lack of discretion.

  • by Mitreya (579078) <mitreyaNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:05AM (#42613159)

    US Federal prosecutors have a vast array of methods they can employ to make it difficult for a defendant to exercise his rights.

    I would argue that it is even worse that they are not compelled to bring charges against anyone breaking the law.

    They could decide not to go after you, and that's that (comes up a lot when trying to bring charges against police officers or other prosecutors). The fact that they can pick and choose who gets charged in the first place is even worse than their ability to overreach when they do bring charges.

  • by davester666 (731373) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:27AM (#42613299) Journal

    No, I was explaining how the system as it is currently configured works.

    People think of it as a "justice system that works for the best outcome for society" when it really is just "a whole bunch of people in fairly well defined roles, each doing what gets him/her ahead the best, generally without regard for what the result is for society or any individual in particular".

    Just like pretty much every other job.

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:59AM (#42613487) Journal

    "JSTOR's mission is to foster widespread access to the world's body of scholarly knowledge". [informationweek.com]

    These are not songs pirated for someone's amusement and profit, taking cocaine away from needy media executives. The very purpose of writing them in the first place is to put them in "the pool of human knowledge" that others may learn what they have, test them, and build upon them - that progress might advance for all mankind. Not in "forever less a day" when the copyright expires, but immediately upon publication. This nonprofit organization purports to want them disseminated, not to serve as the gatekeeper that holds them reserved for a privileged and wealthy few.

    So. No wonder they didn't want Aaron prosecuted. His proposal was to actually help them fulfill their own mission. In death he has laid their hypocrisy bare.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @01:48AM (#42613759)

    The issue is that it sends a bad message to everyone else "I can break the law if I can convince the injured party it is OK". That is the difference between a civil action and a criminal action. It comes down to the fact that Swartz did not have permission when he did the actions. Perhaps the reason JSTOR wanted to drop the charges was to stop the publicity. Maybe they did it to make themselves look good knowing full well that the persecutors would not drop the case.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @03:01AM (#42614159) Homepage
    Oh, so you support battered wives being forced to recant by angry husbands? Prosecutors have discretion over pressing charges for a reason.
  • Re:Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @03:34AM (#42614285)

    Crimes against one's person, and crimes against a nebulous - at best intellectual property concept are and should be treated very differently.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Thursday January 17, 2013 @03:45AM (#42614317) Homepage

    It must be really hard to get around in a world when you can only see black and white and nothing else.

    In what way does this case parallel a battered spouse situation?

    Who had more money: JSTOR/MIT or Defendant?
    Who had more power: JSTOR/MIT or Defendant?
    How bruised was JSTOR/MIT by Swartz' actions?
    What kind of future threat to JSTOR/MIT's physical safety did Swartz represent?

    Seriously man -- your comment is a symptom of what's wrong with the Feds -- no sense of proportion, no sense of reality, no sense of fairness. It's either black or white.

    But beware -- when you start to lock up people for the rest of their lives based on trivial things, those people might think stuff along the lines of "what the hell, might as well bring a gun and shoot someone if I'm caught making this photocopy of a magazine because if I'm going to do that kind of time, might as well do a crime to fit it."

  • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:07AM (#42614569)

    As an engineer (or in fact as pretty much any registered professional) if I just do my job, but ignore the forseeable and realistic risk of someone dying as a result, I'd get sued into the ground and almost certainly never work in my career again.

    Yet intentionally putting as much pressure as possible with threats of life-long imprisonment on someone who you know is a credible suicide risk, yet comitted a misdemeanor at worst in order to force them to do what you want gets away scot-free?

    That is, bluntly, utter bollocks.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcvos (645701) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @06:26AM (#42614917)

    They're members of the Obama administration.

    Can we maybe not politicize everything along party lines, and instead simply recognize injustice when we see it, and demand justice whenever it's needed?

  • by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:00AM (#42615475) Homepage

    She failed to see that 50 years in an American Federal Prison wasn't a fitting punishment for this person/crime.

    Even the injured party didn't think so but she bullied them into pressing full charges.

    Just to make herself look good.

  • Re:Of course not (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:08AM (#42615515)

    Wrong.

    The DA is there to represent The People in seeking justice and only secondarily as the prosecutor for that justice against the defense. The first job of the DA is to impartially and with discretion decide whether the case is worth pursuing at all and if so what charges to bring. This is not a power given to the defense and the DA is expected to impartially play the role of a juror applying reasonable doubt here.

    So it's not the more than mildly brain-dead "blue-team / red-team let's get it on! " scenario you learned from watching Law and Order re-runs. IN fact the whole "deep voiced voiceover" that precedes each Law and Order episode deliberately and malignantly mis-presents and distorts the adversarial structure of the the judicial system by identifying

    In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups -- the police who investigate crime, and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.

    When in reality the "two equally important" sides are the prosecution and the defense, which have decidedly UNequal powers.

    The prosecution and the state has practically unlimited funds to pursue cases- defendants are often indigent.

    Prosecution has the power to decide charges,; defendants can suck it up.

    the prosecutor has a repeating, ongoing relationship with both the police and the judges who in turn decide cases and issue \subpoenas \ decide on admissability \ decide on each objection and motion. Defendants are generally poor strangers around these here parts who likely won't be seen again.

    DAs party with, socialize with, marry into, have kids with, and generally travel in the same social circles with judges , the police and other lawyers, including defense lawyers . Defendants are strangers around these parts who likely wont' be seen again.

    Maybe if you got your ideas about how the system is supposed to work from civics class instead of Fred Thompson TV shows, you'd understand why people are upset over the state of criminal justice in this nation.

  • by jlehtira (655619) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @11:09AM (#42616435) Journal

    "Hey, you've done nothing wrong, but you could still end up in jail for a long time. How about only going to jail for 4 years?"

    Yeah, sounds about fair.

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