US Attorney’s office finally speaks out about Aaron Swartz

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Aaron Swartz

The suicide of Aaron Swartz rocked the internet and has dominated online conversation over the last few days. The Reddit co-founder hanged himself in his New York apartment after receiving news that he could’ve faced 35-years in jail for distributing academic journals protected by paywalls.

Since Swartz’ passing, there have been several voices blaming US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, saying that her office’s intense prosecution led to the 26-year-old’s death. A whitehouse.gov petition with nearly 40 000 signatures calls for the removal of Ortiz.

Swartz’ family also released a statement linking the prosecution to their son’s suicide.

“Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy,” read the statement. “It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.”

Ortiz, whose office has been silent for the past week, finally spoke out in a statement. She defends her office saying that the prosecutors who handled the case were only “enforcing a law that they had taken an oath to uphold”.

She also says that her office recognised that there was no evidence against Swartz that showed that he committed the crime for financial gain. According to the attorney, this would have led to a six month stint in a low security facility or a probation sentence which would have been discussed with Swartz’s counsel.

Below is Ortiz’s full statement:

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 fulfil this mission every day.

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