Petition to investigate the possible abuse of power by US District Attorney Carmen Ortiz and others in the Aaron Swartz case

David Booth, 16-Jan-2013

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Aaron Swartz persecution by prosecutors: incompetence or criminal abuse of power?

As more of the facts of the Aaron Swartz "hacking" case have been revealed to the public[1], it is not clear that Aaron's actions in downloading academic journal articles were illegal at all.  But it is patently clear that his actions did not justify the extraordinarily harsh persecution that he received at the hands of US prosecutor Carmen Ortiz and assistant prosecutor Stephen Heymann[2], even if guilty.

Prosecutors have wide latitude in deciding who and how to prosecute, and the effects of their prosecution can be devastating, whether the accused is innocent or guilty.  Prosecutors therefore bear a responsibility to use that power appropriately and fairly.

Aaron faced criminal charges that (if he won) in the best case would likely have cost him over $1 million in legal fees plus much time and anguish, and (if he lost) in the  worst case could have cost him an additional $4 million in fines and up to 50 years in prison[3].  All this for downloading academic journal articles.

A bully whose victim is driven to suicide is not solely responsible for the victim's death, nor are prosecutors Ortiz and Heymann solely to blame for Aaron's suicide.  But they do bear responsibility for their own prosecutorial abuse, and they must be held accountable for it -- professionally and criminally -- whether that abuse is the result of incompetence, negligence or intent.

Was the prosecutor's egregiously disproportionate pursuit of Aaron Swartz simply a display of gross incompetence?  Or was it a selfishly or politically motivated, criminal abuse of power?

In the wake of this tragic loss of a brilliant young citizen whose clear passion and goal was freedom of information for the public good -- the very foundation of a our democracy -- the public deserves a full and independent investigation into the prosecutorial excesses that contributed to Aaron's death.