DoJ drops charges against Aaron Swartz

The US government has dismissed the case against Aaron Swartz.

In the wake of the tragic suicide of Aaron Swartz, the United States Attorney decided to formally drop the pending charges against the 26-year-old information hacktivist.

"In support of this dismissal, the government states that Mr. Swartz died on January 11, 2013," wrote Carmen Ortiz, the United States Attorney for the District Court of Massachusetts.

Swartz faced legal charges after he infamously downloaded a huge cache of documents from JSTOR. Over the weekend, Swartz' family said the aggressive legal tactics of the US Attorney's office contributed to his suicide.

Government formally drops charges against Aaron Swartz [Ars Technica/Cyrus Farivar]


  1. Well that’s very considerate of them. I mean they’d be monsters to hound a guy to suicide and then pursue his soul into the afterlife.

    I didn’t even know it was possible to prosecute someone after they had died. Do they punish the estate normally, or do they get to defile the body in some way as punishment?

        1. I think it’s because he died between conviction and sentencing? The internets say it’s because of some precedent set in the federal court that the case was being tried in. Ken Lay’s estate doesn’t get off the hook completely. It’s just that the gov’t or whoever else was defrauded would have to pursue civil litigation and re-litigate to recover economic damages. Because it’s no longer criminal (dude’s dead), they couldn’t get any punitive damages.

          1. I dreamed I saw Ken Lay last night, 
            Alive as you and me. 
            Says I “But Ken, you’re six years dead” 
            “I never died” said he, 
            “I never died” said he. 

            “In Colorado, Ken,” says I, 
            Him standing by my bed, 
            “A coronary took you out.” 
            Says Ken, “But I ain’t dead,” 
            Says Ken, “But I ain’t dead.” 

            And standing there as big as life, 
            His face so cool and calm,  
            Says Ken “What they can never kill 
            Went on to grease some palms, 
            Went on to grease some palms.” 

            From Goldman Sachs to A.I.G., 
            With every trick and way 
            The rich use to defraud us all, 
            It’s there you’ll find Ken Lay, 
            It’s there you’ll find Ken Lay. 

      1. There’s nobody asking for damages.  And they can’t punish him now that he’s dead.  So their job is done now, and they’re wrapping it up and moving on to their next target.

    1. They learned to stop by watching the RIAA sue a terminal man with cancer, then “allowing” the family a certain number of days to grieve before expecting them to come back to court.
      They also lied and said the man who with his dying breath was cursing them had decided to settle… but then corporations get to lie in court.

  2. This would be a necessary part of showing some decency, but on its own seems like little more than unfeeling pragmatism. :(

  3. This whole thing is a fucking travesty. Our entire criminal justice system is out of whack and I think the overbearing persecution of Swartz only underscores that fact. I hope someone at the DOJ at the very least has the decency to be ashamed of their actions, but sadly, I know they don’t. They really are pathetic jackasses.

    1. I speculate that this was at the top of the to-do list this morning precisely to keep “someone at the DOJ” from getting calls from reporters and going on the record about how they might feel, or what the tone of the office is today. Some reporters are very good at getting information, after all, and some DOJ intern would be no match.

      1.  I don’t know. it sure does smack of trying to make themselves look at least not completely like monsters in the wake of this travesty. That makes me think they are even bigger and more raging assholes.  :-( 

  4. Government agencies are made up of people.  I’ve seen a lot of “someone at the DOJ”.  Who was it?  Who approved their actions?  Not for a witch-hunt, please, but for the record. 

    Individual accountability will restrain prosecutorial over-reach. Today’s zealous crusading prosecutor is tomorrow’s candidate for public office. Having on the record that “Oh, you’re the one that hounded that young man to death” might put an end to that ambition.The gray faceless evil of bureaucracy is powered by individual people making choices.  Those people leave reams of memos and emails showing who made what decision.  When I make a bad decision, I expect to be held accountable.  Employment by government should not make one immune to consequences.

    1. Agreed. People should be held accountable, I hope someone is, but I’m not going to hold my breathe. Bureaucracies have a way of not allowing people to be accountable for the choices they make, if those choices do indeed benefit the power structure. They nearly always go after the lowest hanging fruit think Abu Ghraib or the lack of accountability for the torture regime post-9/11. Did anyone go to jail for the assasniation of Fred Hampton? Maybe it’s the Banality of Evil, in Arendt’s famous phrase.

      1. This is the paradox of out of control government. It’s supposed to benefit the People, but is in no way incentivized to do so. Instead, low level employees are locked into the long goodbye with life insurance guarantees and other long-term benefits, and high-level bureaucrats are rewarding friends and punishing enemies.

        Here’s a comparison of where the People are in this equation:

    2. The buck stops at the President’s desk, but people won’t want to hear that.  If you don’t like that, you can look at Eric Holder.

      More specifically, this administration has made it a goal to target “hackers,” as opposed to other lovely gentlemen:

      The worst that will happen to Ortiz (et al) will be she’ll have to settle for a 6 figure lobbying job rather than governor of Massachusetts. (Although I frankly doubt that her political career will be significantly harmed.  Evil is rewarded by an evil system.)

      1. ‘The buck stops at the ‘ is a classic way to avoid punishing anyone. Realistically, is there any chance the president will lose his job over this? No. So pushing the idea that he is responsible is a safe way to say that no-one has to to take responsibility. What we should be asking is who was directly responsible? Who made the decision to continue the case, after JSTOR decided not to pursue it? Why did they think this was appropriate? Was their decision affected by any group outside of government (lobby groups, etc)? All this should be made public.

      1.  It should probably include a lot more people, too I’d imagine, but if you can get one person taken down, the public face of the prosecution, that’s probably a victory in some way. however, I do wonder that if Ortiz loses the job, if that’s just more cosmetic than anything else.

  5. This inexcusable leniency will simply teach other criminal-terrorist-villains how easy it is to get off scotch free for their cyber-terrorism by taking this simple action. Shameful.

    1. Are you kidding? This will never happen. They will investigate themselves and then find that they worked within the scope of their duty–their “duty to the American people.”

  6. Let’s not be glib, or worse, ungrateful. This was a result. Aaron’s prosecutors certainly have a great deal more atoning to do in their times, but I suspect this DOJ decision was made – or compelled – by someone up the ladder. Aaron clearly had the right friends in the right places: and that means YOU, Internet-that-matters.The Internet didn’t sit on its hands about this, and this DOJ choice was a non-insignificant result (re: estate penalties) – hopefully one of many. 

    Cory, you honor Aaron’s memory by being active and cerebral in your grief, by making this an occasion for conversation and introspection. I only hope I can stay one-millionth as focused on the good work to be done in this world the next time someone close to me becomes someone far.

    Where Lessig – as a griever is entitled – came calling for heads, you simply provided yours. I am in awe at your poise, your restraint and yet, somehow, the clarion EFFECTIVENESS of your prose and sentiment in the face of death.  You make me want justice, not vengeance. I have no doubt that Aaron’s peers, family and friends, and the love they have demonstrated through words and action have effectuated this first result, mere days after Aaron’s death. Thank you, Cory – and BoingBoing – for being a part of that.

    All the best to you and yours from an anonymous coward.

    1. Signed. But I think you want a ‘never’ there or something. And I’m more than a little uncomfortable with the word ‘administration.’ The doj – AT LARGE – just started to see reason and/or correct for a localized lack thereof. That’s the newsworthiness of this post.

      ‘Administration’ has become a very politicized word. Let’s please keep this about Aaron.

      1. I don’t think there’s any chance that they’ll actually do anything about her, but this will make them take a public stand on the issue.

      2. I can only ‘thumbsup’ once (don’t like to ‘like’), but I can thank you here and now for your comments. You very eloquently put what I thought. Thank you.

  7. In my experience, DOJ wants to hurt innocent people. I don’t have a criminal record and wasn’t charged with a federal crime but DOJ imprisoned me for 5 months without a written charge, an evidentiary hearing or a bail hearing. DOJ assistant US attorney David C. Rybicki filed in federal court that I engaged in abusive litigation but that was not admissible evidence per rule 608.  DOJ can’t find evidence that is admissible that I am dishonest.  DOJ assistant U.S. attorney Tricia D. Francis emailed me that DOJ is opposed to an evidentiary hearing to determine if what Rybicki filed in court is true or not.

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