National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

More on the Aaron Swartz Case

From the One Generation Away blog:

Aaron Swartz was an influential man with very important friends, and that’s why this case is getting so much attention.  Sadly, this kind of behavior by prosecutors is not an extreme example, but instead par for the course.

“[I]t’s important to realize that what happened in the Swartz case happens it lots and lots of federal criminal cases. Yes, the prosecutors tried to force a plea deal by scaring the defendant with arguments that he would be locked away for a long time if he was convicted at trial. Yes, the prosecutors filed a superseding indictment designed to scare Swartz even more into pleading guilty (it actually had no effect on the likely sentence, but it’s a powerful scare tactic). Yes, the prosecutors insisted on jail time and a felony conviction as part of a plea. But it is not particularly surprising for federal prosecutors to use those tactics. What’s unusual about the Swartz case is that it involved a highly charismatic defendant with very powerful friends in a position to object to these common practices. That’s not to excuse what happened, but rather to direct the energy that is angry about what happened. If you want to end these tactics, don’t just complain about the Swartz case. Don’t just complain when the defendant happens to be a brilliant guy who went to Stanford and hangs out with Larry Lessig. Instead, complain that this is business as usual in federal criminal cases around the country — mostly with defendants who no one has ever heard of and who get locked up for years without anyone else much caring.”

That was law professor Orin Kerr.  He has a proposal for change:  “Felony liability under the statute is triggered much too easily. The law needs to draw a distinction between low-level crimes and more serious crimes, and current law does so poorly.”  Some have proposed “Aaron’s Law” which would remove terms of service violations from the federal criminal code….

Aaron Swartz knew he was breaking the law when he downloaded those articles.  What he did not know, was that if a prosecutor wanted to make his life hell, she could credibly see to it that he was locked up until his mid 50’s.  We should make sure that punishments fit crimes, and that when we collectively threaten to remove a human being from society for a generation or two, they actually did something worthy of such a profound punishment.

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