Fully Informed Jury Association

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Function of Juries & Jury Nullification | 11 Jan 2014

-Would Fully Informed Jurors Have Changed Aaron Swartz’ Mind?


Jury BoxToday is the anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz who took his own life after being hounded mercilessly by prosecutors stacking up criminal charges against him in a matter that was settled privately to the satisfaction of the party who claimed to have been harmed. Rather than let the matter go when the aggrieved party made clear it did not want criminal charges to be pursued, government agents insisted that Swartz would not be offered any plea deal that did not involve jail time.

Had Swartz been confident that he would have had a fair trial before a fully informed jury, would he have felt he had another escape from malicious prosecutorial bullying than to end his own life? I hope that we will all remember this young man and how destructive malicious prosecution is not only to the people the come into the crosshairs of prosecutors’ sights, but also to those around them, as we do our best to ensure everyone has access to independent-minded, fully informed jurors willing to consult their consciences in delivering just verdicts that restore balance to the community.

Losing Aaron

For Bob [Aaron’s father] and Aaron, [prosecutor Stephen] Heymann was the face of the state. Aaron’s attorneys approached Heymann shortly after Aaron’s arrest, asking him to drop the charges. The meetings did not go well; Heymann refused to accept a settlement that did not involve jail time. At an impasse with Heymann, Bob and Aaron approached JSTOR. The company was much more open to negotiation, and in June 2011, the sides reached a civil settlement. Aaron paid a $26,500 fine. A spokesman said JSTOR considered the case closed: “We [have] no interest in this becoming an ongoing legal matter.”

Nonetheless, the criminal case slouched forward undeterred. As Aaron’s indictment neared, Heymann offered him a plea deal: If he agreed to one felony count, he could get three months in jail, followed by a period of probation and time in a halfway house.

Negotiations continued, but in the end Aaron told Heymann no. He would fight the felony charges and go to trial.

A few days before the indictment, Aaron’s attorney called the U.S. Attorney’s Office and agreed that Aaron would voluntarily surrender. But Bob says the prosecutors insisted on arresting him: “They strip-searched him. They took away his shoelaces. They put him in solitary confinement and left him there. They brought him out in handcuffs. And then, after his bond was posted, they left him in a cell for a couple of hours, with no explanation. It was just sadistic.”

Aaron was charged with wire fraud, computer fraud, and “unlawfully obtaining information from” and “recklessly damaging” a “protected computer.” There would be 13 felony counts in all. At the time of the indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said he could face 35 years in prison.

Aaron had ulcerative colitis, and his family feared that his health would deteriorate if he went to prison. He was growing increasingly depressed. “The endless plea negotiations, discussions of jail, what jail to go to, what the halfway house was going to be like…they were torture,” Bob says. “They were torture for me but far more torture for Aaron. He couldn’t deal. I dealt with the legal aspects of the case because it was very hard for him to do that. And, you know, it destroyed his feelings of security.”