Responding to criticism that U.S. Attorney of Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz was too harsh in her prosecution of Aaron Swartz, late on Wednesday night, Ortiz issued a statement in which she defended her office's decisions as "appropriate" to the case and the belief his alleged actions merited jail time. But tellingly, even Ortiz does did not defend the current state of computer crime law, which meant that Swartz technically faced 50 years in federal prison, a sentence harsher than murder, for his thirteen felony charges for downloading the academic database JSTOR. The prosecutors working on the case, Ortiz said, "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."
But that does not mean she thought Swartz shouldn't go to jail. Her office Ortiz offered Swartz six months in a "low security setting," if he plead guilty, as part of a plea bargain. If he did not accept that, however, the prosecution would argue for a seven- to eight-year sentence. The idea of serving any jail time at all reportedly weighed on Swartz, his girlfriend and lawyers told The Wall Street Journal earlier this week. His family has alleged that "prosecutorial overreach" killed him, in their statement.
From Ortiz's point of view, however, her office went easy on Schwartz by demanding he serve only a fraction of the time authorized by the law. Her statement hasn't appeased critics who, in addition to criticizing Ortiz's handling of the case, are pointing to all sorts of problems with the legal system and the law, to which even Ortiz seems to allude. Even if she might think the statutory penalties were excessive, Tech Dirt's Mike Masnick suggests that the U.S. Attorney had no problem using it as leverage in their plea deal negotiations:
Furthermore, as Swartz's lawyers have made clear, Ortiz and her assistant, Stephen Heymann were pretty explicit to Swartz's lawyers that if he did not take their plea bargain offer, the next offer would be for more jail time, and if he still chose not to accept the offer, they'd seek at least seven years for Swartz in court. Tossing out that six month claim as if it were proof of some sort of fair dealing on Ortiz's part is flat out insulting to the intelligence of any thinking person, and downright offensive to the memory of Aaron.