Statement by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz

In a huge story, many have linked the prosecution of Aaron Swartz to his tragic suicide. Here’s part of a statement by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz trying to argue that her prosecution of Swartz was reasonable.

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.

I guess it’s encouraging at some level they were not seeking harsh sentences in a plea arrangement, but they also should have known that as a matter of principle Swartz would never cop a plea.

We have many laws on the books that frankly are obsolete in the Internet age, and we need prosecutors with judgement over prosecutors with an agenda. The obvious course of action here was probation with a stern warning, so Swartz and others would know that they have to be careful with mass downloads of information.

The government and the Justice Department needs to get on this asap. These antiquated laws in the hands of idiot prosecutors are lethal weapons.


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