Carmen Ortiz
Aaron Swartz

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz Issues Statement About Her Office’s Handling Of Case Against Aaron Swartz

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After accusations of overzealous prosecution and a whitehouse.gov petition with nearly 40,000 signatures calling for her removal, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz has issued a statement about the suicide of Aaron Swartz. In it, Ortiz defended her office’s handling of the case, saying its conduct was “appropriate” and that it would not have sought a decades-long prison sentence:

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.

Since Swartz’s death last week, many have criticized Ortiz and MIT for their handing of Swartz’s case after the university detected his attempts to download millions of articles from JSTOR in 2011, saying that their harsh treatment of the 26-year-old hacktivist contributed to his suicide. MIT has launched an internal investigation into its actions.

The case against Aaron Swartz was dismissed by the U.S. District Court after his death. Here 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 fulfill this mission every day.

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