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

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 (#42611513)
    Whether the person is a suicide risk should not be a factor in the charges that are brought.
    • 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 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 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by davester666 ( 731373 )

          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 innocen

      • 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.

        • by celle ( 906675 )

          "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."

          Well at least the prosecutors didn't attach all his accounts so he couldn't defend himself with capable counsel like they do in most other cases. Oh, that's right, he didn't have any money for them to take. Either way, they were warned they migh

    • 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.

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Thursday January 17, 2013 @08:56AM (#42615455) Homepage

      Well.... thats how people are. Its not a problem until something sensational happens. I know a few people who have been utterly railroaded like this.

      Actually I was involved peripherally in a corperate bribery scandal (I actually was called to testify about a meeting I was in) and I couldn't help but bad as what these guys did.... their careers were ruined, their names were in the paper.... why was the prosecutor going so hard against the 1 guy who refused to plead guilty?

      I mean prosecute fine, go to trial, but nobody else was punished like he was, and he was the lowest man on the totem pole. Why should he recieve the most punishment (he faced actual jail time, his supervisor and external company owner got slapped on the wrist). It seemed to me like it was more about a prosecutor wanting to look tough than about anything I would call justice.

      And I am not defending the guy because I even particularly liked him. Actually I was annoyed that he was a higher level than me when we was clearly not all that technically inclined (I once found he told someone that turning off a service in inetd would block the corresponding port like a firewall! )... but... seeing that I just felt bad for him.

      Another friend picked up a girl at burger king and later found out the hard way she was under age (by all of 6 months) and was a runaway. Her "friend" got upset about something and called the police.... he was given a list of charges as long as your arm.... if he didn't want to just confess to one crime of statutory rape that is.

      In the end, its like prosecutors have decided their jobs is avoiding trials at all cost.... and damn people if they want to exercise their right to make their case and be judged by their peers. They just care that people say uncle.

      We should simply remove the entire concept of a plea, and require prosecutors to make their case before a jury regardless of confessions and or whatnot. This system as is is just plain abusive.

    • And we are doing nothing to stop it.

  • 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 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 ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:13PM (#42617209) Homepage Journal

        >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.

        US Attorneys are the closest things to dictators our country has. Chris Christie said that as governor he missed the power he had a US Attorney. They're designed to be independent, and firing them for what cases they choose to bring to trial has ended up backfiring before. ( As the wikipedia entry says, "The U.S. Attorneys, in their pursuit of justice, wield enormous power. Their political impartiality in deciding which cases to prosecute and in arguing those cases before judges and juries with diverse views is essential."

        I think *this* needs to change.

        And they need to be liable for abuse of their power.

        I'm watching it happen in my own life. US Attorney Wagner ( here in California is currently actively trying to ruin the life of one of my friends. Wagner is the guy that recently made front page headlines on the NYT ( for arresting medical marijuana folks licensed in California. My friend is a landowner whose tenants grew pot on his land without his knowledge. For this, Wagner is attempting to seize all of their assets, both related to the case and unrelated. He's doing this all around the state (, and there's nothing that we the people can really do about it - he apparently feels very comfortable where he sits, ruining the lives of innocent people, because he feels it will intimidate landowners across the state into what he feels the law should be.

        It's ridiculous, and it's unconstitutional in my opinion.

        Here is a petition to remove Wagner from office: []

    • 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 Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:05PM (#42612237)

      "Focusing on those two (whose behavior does indeed seem pretty despicable) is going to accomplish very little in the long term."

      I disagree completely. We have experience in my local area with a prosecutor who was apparently corrupt, and cherry-picked who he was going to prosecute (and how hard) based on reasons other than the law.

      I say: DO focus on these two, and punish them harshly for overstepping. Part of the reason for their overreach in the first place has been the ability to do such things without consequence. Give them some real consequences, and watch them shape up.

      As someone else said, we can do both. The Feds are going to have to be put back in their place, and by that I don't just mean prosecutors. But that's a good place to start.

      And as for the judges who let them get away with it: be advised that contrary to popular belief, Federal judges are not appointed for life. They can only hold office during "good behaviour"! (U.S. Constitution, Article 3, Section 9). That paragraph explicitly states that this is true even of Supreme Court justices. So let's get a movement rolling about bad behavior.

    • are you asking for REAL checks and balances?


  • I could see prosecutors bringing the heat down on the kid, pushing him over the edge, just to try and score political points...

  • 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 jkrise ( 535370 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:34PM (#42611921) Journal

      First, it's not scapegoating. Scapegoating implies the victim is innocent, somebody else did the crime, and the scapegoat merely gets the label of a criminal.

      So if the focus falls on 2 over-zealous prosecutors, and their motives proved to be wrong, and they are made an example of, it does not mean they were scapegoats. It means they fully deserved the focus brought to bear on them.
      "Making example of" is not a 'cheap trick'. Prosecutors do the same. Judges do the same. RIAA/MPAA do the same. They do not prosecute every allegedly guilty party. They make an example of a few, to make it a sufficient deterrent for the rest.

      So if two players are indicted for gaming the system for their personal goals, caring little for justice, they should be made an example of. Countless other prosecutors would think 100 times before following the same path.

    • its the same thing with cops. if you call the cops, -someone- is going to be taken back to the station. they are almost not allowed to return empty handed.

      with THIS kind of system, its no wonder we are becoming more of a third-world quality system of 'justice'.

      numbers matters. and when numbers matter (quantities), justice takes a back seat.

  • 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.

  • why yes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @08:59PM (#42611611)

    Lets just scare a 26 year old into thinking hes going to be forever labeled a felon... This means no job in the IT industry, one heck of a time finding housing, and good luck with quite a few other aspects of life that people take for granted. By the way, you get to do 35 years in PRISON, not jail, PRISON. The place where you either join a gang or get raped.

    Ortiz's dipshit husband says "he had a plea bargain for 6 months." Oh sweet, I get to get raped for 6 months instead of 35 years. But also face the whole not ever being able to find a job, and having to live with my parents because no one will rent me a place...

    I would have offed myself too. Dear DOJ, go f' yourself.

    • Re:why yes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by NicBenjamin ( 2124018 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:45PM (#42612041)

      Ortiz's dipshit husband says "he had a plea bargain for 6 months." Oh sweet, I get to get raped for 6 months instead of 35 years. But also face the whole not ever being able to find a job, and having to live with my parents because no one will rent me a place...

      Does anyone except her actually believe she made that offer? Or that there wasn't some wonderful catch like "50 years of probation during which time you can't touch a computer, and you have to say yes in the next minutes."

      You don't charge a guy with a 35-year felony if all you want is six months.

  • 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:
    It's well past time for scholarly knowledge to be openly accessible to everyone.

  • 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.

  • Prosecutorial Power (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tranquilidad ( 1994300 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:07PM (#42611693)

    People have a tendency to behave in ways that give them the most recognition, whether that recognition is stature, monetary reward or both.

    For whatever reason prosecutors seem to be rewarded based on a win percentage, which is objective, vs. a justice served percentage which is subjective. Combine this reward system with an overcrowded judicial system and we end up with a bastardized incentive system that rewards over-charging suspects and attempting to get the suspect to plead down to a lesser charge. Either the person deserves to be tried for the higher charge or not. Using the potential of serious punishment in order to convince a defendant to accept a lesser charge does not serve justice.

    I think Elliott Spitzer was a great example of this type of prosecutorial abuse. He developed a model where he went after many people who had committed no crime but were willing to plead down to lesser crimes to avoid the potential punishment and drawn-out legal process of facing a daunting legal challenge. Spitzer's final year or so when he was getting ready to run for governor was quite disgusting in that there were many people indicted during his run for governorship and the charges were dropped after the election because they weren't fully baked. I've argued that prosecutors should not be allowed to run for another office until at least two years after their last stint as a prosecutor to avoid the conflict of interest associated with running up prosecutorial win rates while running for another office.

    I saw Spitzer on his CNN show after his fall from grace and he said as much when he promoted, in order to stop behavior with which he disagreed, of indicting a group of people for a crime. He said that they would never have to get a conviction because the mere threat would be enough to stop the behavior. This is a person willing to abuse his power in order to change the otherwise legal behavior of people with whom he disagreed.

    Ted Stevens (Senator Internet Pipes) had prosecutors who were sanctioned and had his conviction overturned as a result. Unfortunately, his conviction was overturned after his death and cost him an election. Whether you liked Senator Internet Pipes or not doesn't change the fact that using federal prosecutors to intimidate citizens is unacceptable.

    These aren't the only two cases. I seem to recall a number of prosecutorial misconduct cases over the past few years and it's a crying shame that it continues and costs so much pain for ordinary citizens.

    Combine prosecutorial misconduct with the avalanche of new laws and regulations coming our way and we can expect this trend to continue mainly because we never know when we've run afoul of some law or regulation with which we are unfamiliar.

  • "Making an example" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:16PM (#42611749) Journal

    The prosecutors brought charges far out of proportion with the "crime" of...downloading a bunch of papers in order to "set an example" for other people who might want to do something on computer networks they don't understand yet somehow find threatening.

    This seems to happen a lot. Massive overreactions to harmless pranks. Say something critical about the TSA or the FBI online and get put on some watch list for being a "cyberterrorist." Change your MAC address and download some freely available research papers and get 35 years and a million dollar fine for "hacking."

    Perhaps it's time another example were made. Hey prosectors and government dipshits: if you don't start employing some common sense, then you're going to lose your career.

    Fire 'em. Make an example out of them.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:32PM (#42611899)

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

    The general public has almost knollege of this case. There is no focus what-so-ever, much less on the prosecutors of this case.

    Journalists and commentators are now questioning the role of Massachusetts prosecutors Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann in the suicide of Aaron Swartz

    Journalists were uninterested in this case until a young man killed himself. Now that they've written their stories and cashed their checks, they'll go back to not caring.

    and whether they levied disproportionate charges in order to boost their own political profiles, despite being warned he was a suicide risk.

    Of course they did, that's their job. They don't get moved ahead in their career by being fair and measured in their approach.

    Meanwhile White House petitions to remove Ortiz and Heymann have already received tens of thousands of signatures.

    The Whitehouse has already shown, numerous times that the petition site is a joke. They do not care, unless the petition in question is regarding one of their current policy bullet points. Freedom of the internet, and information in general, is in no way something this, or any administration is interested in.

    Should these prosecutors be investigated for their actions regarding Swartz?"

    They are lawyers, and Prosecutors, they are horrible horrible people. We all know this. What else should they be investigated for? This sort of thing happens every day, all the time, and it's totally legal. We've put sociopaths in charge of our legal system. This is the result.

    I know that the OP wanted to make it appear like the general public suddenly had an interest in justice, the rule of law, fairness, and any number of other noble things. But they don't. They are interested Facebook, impressing their friends and their own insular problems. Comfort has made us weak.

  • 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 stox ( 131684 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @09:39PM (#42611971) Homepage

    Our Federal legal system has gottent out of control. The laws have become too complex and convoluted for a layman to understand and the penalties have become way too large. There is a reason that less than 1 in 40 Federal prosecutions even make it to a court. The prosecutors make it almost impossible not to take a plea deal. []

    I really can't fault Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann, their behavior is what the current system demands.

  • Consequences (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:04PM (#42612207)
    There need to be consequences for prosecutors who abuse their positions.This could be done mathematically. One abuse is when prosecutors level massive charges with the goal of pleading them down. Thus there could be a maximum ratio of charges laid vs convictions/pleas on those exact charges. Another abuse is the investigation itself. So there could be a maximum investigation to conviction ratio. Also there could be a maximum time for an investigation. If someone is investigated for years and years the drain on them is nasty. So it should require a judge's approval to continue an investigation past a certain amount of time. For a crime boss this could be a great long time but for some dumb computer case it should be 30 days or less.

    When consequences kick in there should be both penalties to the prosecutor and benefits to the investigated. Much like the double jeopardy if you charge someone with something serious that you can't make stick it should then be impossible to convict them in revenge on a minor related crime. So if you charge some hacker with RICO and massive fraud but can't make it stick you can't then convict him in revenge for mail fraud because he filled out some form wrong.

    Then there is the prosecutor. If these ratios are passed by a certain amount the prosecutor should immediately be suspended and their continued employment up for review. Pass the ratios again and game over they lose their job.

    The last option should also be that the defense can have a single prosecutor removed and assigned to a random other prosecutor. This way the "career making" cases are then less about politics and more about justice.
    • Interesting. What I was thinking about today was a constitutional amendment that was somewhat simply: (a) all prison sentences must be approved by a jury, period, no exceptions (including plea bargains and the current 6-months a judge can sentence you without right to a jury), and (b) some kind of limit on jail time pre-trial. Some would say "but the system would be brought to a grinding halt", to which the response would be: "that is desired behavior [feature not a bug]; make prosecutors selectively pick t

  • by andrew3 ( 2250992 ) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @10:31PM (#42612469)

    Aaron Swartz was facing allegations of computer hacking. He may have trespassed, but changing a MAC address is hardly hacking.

    It's like getting banned on Slashdot, and then registering a new user name. Except with MAC addresses. If what Aaron Swartz did was hacking, thousands of Slashdot users just became criminals.

  • 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.)

  • 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 tukang ( 1209392 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @12:53AM (#42613451) []

    “As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that there is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life.

    I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably. The prosecutors recognized that there was no evidence against Mr. Swartz indicating that he committed his acts for personal financial gain, and they recognized that his conduct – while a violation of the law – did not warrant the severe punishments authorized by Congress and called for by the Sentencing Guidelines in appropriate cases. That is why in the discussions with his counsel about a resolution of the case this office sought an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct – a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting. While at the same time, his defense counsel would have been free to recommend a sentence of probation. Ultimately, any sentence imposed would have been up to the judge. At no time did this office ever seek – or ever tell Mr. Swartz’s attorneys that it intended to seek – maximum penalties under the law.

    As federal prosecutors, our mission includes protecting the use of computers and the Internet by enforcing the law as fairly and responsibly as possible. We strive to do our best to fulfill this mission every day.”

  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @05:38AM (#42614713) Homepage Journal

    on my own Google Plus Page [].

    My reply was (substituted wording before quotes).

    Okay assuming he's guilty on all counts in reality. "Is a $4,000,000 fine and 50 years in prison reasonable for this crime? For padding on your part let's pretend he stripped naked directly after successfully downloading everything and instantly uploading it to a remote Bit Torrent server, ran up to the librarians desk and took a diaretic shit right in the middle of it does that justify 4 million dollars and 50 years? "

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"