Thursday, February 14, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 4

Follow-up 2: Aaron Swartz

Four weeks ago I talked about Aaron Swartz, the internet wunderkind who committed suicide as he faced trial on 13 felonies for trespassing into a computer closet at MIT to download articles from a database of scholarly journals.

I said at the time that the case was one of egregious prosecutorial overreach and abuse on the part of the US Attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz. I said that the intent was to make Swartz their scarecrow to frighten others, that is, to use him to "send a message." I also said Ortiz was thinking of running for governor and that I wanted you to remember this case if she ever did.

Well, now it develops that, according to a report in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, state prosecutors had intended to let Swartz off with a stern warning. The Middlesex County's district attorney had planned no jail time, the report said, "with Swartz duly admonished and then returned to civil society to continue his pioneering electronic work in a less legally questionable manner." The expectation was for what's called "continuance without a finding," where the charge is held in abeyance and if the defendant stays out of trouble for some period, usually some months to maybe a few years, the charge is dismissed. That's what was expected. Until Carmen Ortiz seized control of the case and turned it into 13 felonies.

Remember this case.

By the way, as a footnote, it's worth noting that last July the Boston "Phoenix" gave Ortiz it's top Muzzle Award for the year, given for violations of free speech. In this case it was for prosecuting Tarek Mehanna, who was convicted of "material aid to terrorism" and sentenced to 17 years in prison totally and entirely for what he said and wrote, not for anything he actually did. Remember, indeed.


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