A week after his suicide, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz has defended her prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz as "appropriate," despite charges from his family and legal observers that it was so harsh, vindictive and unjustified it contributed to his death. Many blame Ortiz, who had a reputation for toughness and was reportedly insisting on prison time, for abusing an already seriously flawed plea bargain system that allows prosecutors to threaten massive "possible" punishments to effectively force someone into pleading guilty without trial. More on our larger failure, as a legal system and a culture, to protect Swartz and those like him. A sad story all around.
"Thanks in part to this kind of coercion, more than 90% of defendants waive their right to a jury trial. For the majority of defendants, then, the plea bargaining process is the justice system. As a result, prosecutors wield an immense amount of power with very little accountability."
"We can rightly judge a society by how it treats its eccentrics and deviant geniuses—and by that measure, we have utterly failed....Today, prosecutors feel they have license to treat leakers of information like crime lords or terrorists. In an age when our frontiers are digital, the criminal system threatens something intangible but incredibly valuable. It threatens youthful vigor, difference in outlook, the freedom to break some rules and not be condemned or ruined for the rest of your life."