By Mike Masnick
Yesterday we wrote about Attorney General Eric Holder’s ridiculous claims defending the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. We noted two key things that were ridiculous. First, Holder insisted that Swartz was only facing a few months in jail (he implied 5 months, tops) and scolded the media for claiming it was 35 years.
As we noted it was the US Attorneys’ own press release that trumpeted the 35 years. More importantly, the few months in prison was only if he agreed to plead guilty. If he continued to profess his innocence (something you would do if you believed you were innocent), the US Attorneys claimed they were going to push for seven years. The other ridiculous point that Holder made was that it was “good prosecutorial discretion” to offer just a few months in the plea bargain, because that somehow showed them recognizing the “context” of the crime.
In response, Swartz’s girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman has put out a very strong statement, slamming Holder’s claims. Not only does she highlight the threat of seven years in prison, but she goes much further, to allege clear prosecutorial misconduct by the US Attorney’s office, including seizing and holding evidence without a warrant, lying to the judge and then withholding exculpatory evidence from Swartz’s lawyers. These are three really serious charges that I haven’t seen much discussion about previously:
“Eric Holder and the Department of Justice are clearly trying to mislead the Senate and the public. Holder claims that Aaron was only facing months in prison while Heymann and Ortiz were actively pursuing a penalty of 7 years if the case went to trial. If you believe you’re innocent, you should not be coerced into accepting a plea bargain that marks you as a felon for life, just because prosecutors want to boast about taking a scalp. The discrepancy between the plea deal and the amount of prison time prosecutors said they would pursue at trial violates the DOJ’s own guidelines in this regard. Holder is trying to engage in revisionist history at the same time he claims that the strict sentences pursued by prosecutors were a ‘good use of prosecutorial discretion.’
What’s worse, this isn’t just about sentencing. Steve Heymann engaged in serious prosecutorial misconduct on multiple occasions. Public documents show that he instructed the Secret Service to seize and hold evidence without a warrant, violating the Fourth Amendment. He then lied to the judge about that fact in written briefs. And he withheld exculpatory evidence from Aaron’s lawyers for over a year, despite both a legal and ethical obligation to turn it over. If this constitutes appropriate behavior from the perspective of the Department of Justice, then we live in a police state.
The Department of Justice is not interested in admitting their errors, even when an out of control US Attorney’s office has cost this country one of our best and brightest. The DOJ is only interested in covering their asses.”
It’s too bad that Holder wasn’t quizzed about those specific points as well. The fact that he was able to mischaracterize the actions by the US Attorney’s office in how they went after Swartz is really unfortunate.
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