Prosecutorial abuse

Glenn Greenwald continues to be one of the most important political writers we have, shining a glaring light on the corruption, abuses, and overreach of government. Today he talks about the Aaron Swartz case, but even more importantly, the overall stench that runs throughout our Justice system when it comes to prosecutorial abuse.

Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann: accountability for prosecutorial abuse

To begin with, there has been a serious injustice in the Swartz case, and that alone compels accountability. Prosecutors are vested with the extraordinary power to investigate, prosecute, bankrupt, and use the power of the state to imprison people for decades. They have the corresponding obligation to exercise judgment and restraint in how that power is used. When they fail to do so, lives are ruined – or ended.

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless – or especially, as in Swartz’s case, those who challenge power – are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions. All one has to do to see that this is true is to contrast the incredible leniency given by Ortiz’s office to large companies and executives accused of serious crimes with the indescribably excessive pursuit of Swartz.

This immunity for people with power needs to stop. The power of prosecutors is particularly potent, and abuse of that power is consequently devastating. Prosecutorial abuse is widespread in the US, and it’s vital that a strong message be sent that it is not acceptable. Swartz’s family strongly believes – with convincing rationale – that the abuse of this power by Ortiz and Heymann played a key role in the death of their 26-year-old son. It would be unconscionable to decide that this should be simply forgotten.

The issue permeates every aspect of our society.

All the statistics are well known at this point. The US imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world, both in absolute numbers and proportionally. Despite having only roughly 5% of the world’s population, the US has close to 25% of the world’s prisoners in its cages. This is the result of decades of a warped, now-bipartisan obsession with proving “law and order” bona fides by advocating for ever harsher and less forgiving prison terms even for victimless “crimes”.

The “drug war” is the leading but by no means only culprit. The result of this punishment-obsessed justice approach is not only that millions of Americans are branded as felons and locked away, but that the nation’s racial minorities are disproportionately harmed. As the conservative writer Michael Moynihan detailed this morning in the Daily Beast, there is growing bipartisan recognition “the American criminal justice system, in its relentlessness and inflexibility, its unduly harsh sentencing guidelines, requires serious reexamination.” As he documents, prosecutors have virtually unchallengeable power at this point to convict anyone they want.

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32 Responses to Prosecutorial abuse

  1. divadab says:

    Thanks, Pete, for posting Glenn Greenwald’s column.

    The right in this country seems hell-bent on taking more and more citizens, and rendering them forced parasites, completely dependent on the government and doing nothing useful. (For what else is a prisoner?).

    There are more examples: consider the invasion and occupation of Iraq – over a trillion dollars of borrowed money spent to destroy two countries, and create more enemies for the United States. They may as well have taken our treasure and set it on fire in the desert – it would have had a less bad outcome.

    Further – isn’t the NRA’s call for armed guards in schools more of the same? Paying people to do nothing all day! We have a crisis of manhood in education, a shortage of men to teach boys how to be men, and these idiots want to take limited education resources and throw them away on guards standing around. Now – why not hire men gym teachers, who would be armed, but doing something useful?
    Would this satisfy the henney-pennies?

    The waste of resources on non-productive activities is destroying this country, all that makes it great. What a shame.

    • stlgonzo says:

      I agree with you, but this is not just a problem of people on the right. The Obama Administration still uses guantanamo, still uses rendition, uses drones and doesn’t care about innocent civilians killed, has claimed the right to kill American Citizens abroad with-out due process (at least claiming due process is met inside the executive branch with no judicial or congressional check.)

    • Windy says:

      This is not the only excellent article on this subject, today. Here are links to two more. The first is from Radley Balko over at HuffPo:

      The second is from the National Cannabis Coalition:

  2. DonDig says:

    Innocent until proven guilty has given way to systematic harassment until submission and admission of guilt. Where is the humanity in that?
    Does anyone doubt that a person thus subjected will eventually break down and say nearly anything that the inquisitors desire, in a twisted version of ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’
    If the justice system has gone rogue, how can we move toward fixing it?

  3. Rupert says:

    “As he documents, prosecutors have virtually unchallengeable power at this point to convict anyone they want.”

    That’s why citizens selected to serve on a jury need to be aware of their unchallengeable jury nullification power.

    Let the narcotics officers and prosecutors know that every ounce of sweat, blood and tears they put into an investigation will be for nothing if they bring these drug cases to trial. Eventually they will get the idea and in a way they have, with more than 95% of drug cases resolved with plea bargains.

    • darkcycle says:

      These cases never GET to trial…that’s part of the problem. They will stack charges to the moon and use this to pressure a plea…They will have you begging to be put away for “only” thirty years. They threatened Chris Williams with 85 years, no chance for parole. He is a middle aged man (like me), that is a LIFE sentence they threatened him with. For growing a PLANT. And providing patients with the medicine their doctors recommended for them. They have all the leverage they need, and most of their victims never see a jury.

      • War Vet says:

        Since the DOJ adheres and even influences the CSA laws, this means that the DOJ is an illicit sect or Cell in the eyes of Lady Justice and the U.S. Constitution . . . this means America is one of the few nations in the world that has no court or legal system outside of small claims and tort. This means that the Judicial Branch is a secessionist group since they seceded from the U.S. Government via laws –secessionist in practice and from precedents: the South ceded and yet stayed inside the U.S.’s borders and began administering laws different from that of the Union . . . According to the U.S. Constitution, the DOJ is a coup or faction based on actions.

        DarkCycle –the First Nation to be conquered by the Nazis was the nation of Germany.

    • Dante says:

      Another problem with leaving it in the Jury’s hands is that the government picks a sympathetic jury. Anyone with the least bit of anti-government feeling is sought out and eliminated from the jury.

      To explain, I have been called many, many times for jury duty. The last few times, the prosecutor asked the jury pool questions to determine their “fitness for duty”, some of which were very general like “have you ever had a speeding ticket/ been arrested?”. Some were pretty obvious “Do you hate the government?”.

      All of the people who answered positively were excused from Jury Duty. 100%. Why? Because they probably understand the system pretty good after being chewed up in it, and the prosecutor eliminates them because they would not lick his boots. Others (usually very young & gullible or very old and “tough on crime”) who are more compliant are selected. Next thing you know …


      Works every time. Almost like that (guilty verdict) is the only goal of our entire, expensive, corrupt justice system.

      It is.

  4. Dante says:

    This problem (immunity for public servants) has an interesting “catch 22” feature, one that is repeated throughout the entire criminal justice bureaucracy:

    The people who are responsible for monitoring/changing/correcting the bureaucracy are the exact same people who currently benefit from it’s flaws.

    It goes against human nature to police yourself, and therefore the system will never be corrected by the people who currently enrich themselves within it.

    There’s a motto for that:

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  5. darkcycle says:

    Reading a little news this morning, and it all seems to be happening right here. Washington has announced the opening for a “Weed Consultant” and a schedule for public meetings, as well as a timeline for production and retail sales. It’s all very strange and wonderful to see this process take place:
    Also, I got a good coffee spit from this pronouncement from the Wa. State Patrol. Please notice their eradication numbers and where they’ve gone. We are in the middle of an EXPLOSION of people growing weed, just in the last year alone we have seen two new Hydro stores open in this town of 70,000 or so residents. That’s an expanding market, not a collapsing one. And I live by the airport… they aren’t flying anywhere near as much as they were three years ago (neither are the Feds, for that matter). His claims of success are a tad overblown, me thinks.

    • Duncan20903 says:


      Time for you to quit being a layabout and start making a contribution to society. The first order of business when you take the position is to get that stupid name changed and to educate the State of Washington that cannabis isn’t a fucking weed.

  6. allan says:

    I wasn’t familiar with the Aaron Swartz “case.” Pardon me, but what a crock of shit.

    I’m leaving to go work but will return to Glenn’s column when I get back. There are 2 petitions there:

    A petition on the White House’s website to fire Ortiz quickly exceeded the 25,000 signatures needed to compel a reply, and a similar petition aimed at Heymann has also attracted thousands of signatures

    The levels of stink in this story are amazing. Excellent background info in this HuffPo story

    JSTOR typically limits users to a few downloads at a time. Swartz’s activities ultimately shut down JSTOR’s servers briefly, and eventually resulted in MIT’s library being blocked by JSTOR for a few days.

    This was inconvenient for JSTOR and MIT, and a violation of JSTOR’s Terms of Service agreement. Had JSTOR wanted to pursue civil charges against Swartz for breach of contract, it could have. But JSTOR did not, and washed its hands of the whole affair. In 2013, JSTOR made several million academic journal articles available to anyone, free of charge. Academic research is designed to be publicly accessible and is distinct from the research of private corporations, which assert aggressive intellectual property rights over activities they fund. Last June, Swartz told HuffPost that both JSTOR and MIT had advised prosecutors they were not interested in pursuing criminal or civil charges.

    But the government pressed on, interpreting Swartz’s actions as a federal crime, alleging mass theft, damaged computers and wire fraud, and suggesting that Swartz stood to gain financially.

    These federal attorneys need their heads handed to them, with their letters of termination (your services are no longer wanted) stapled to their foreheads.

    • allan says:

      as disgusting as the death of Peter McWilliams.

      • darkcycle says:

        Not to mention, Aaron was a genius on the level of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. The reason they came after him was his advocacy for a free internet. What might he have accomplished had the all powerful State not decided to take him down?

        • allan says:

          nothing funny here… when I consider that communities across the country are all wrapped up in “preventing bullying” of kids and teens and yet the biggest bully in the schoolyard is Big Brother I just get more and more angry.

          I swear, if there isn’t a march on DC this summer…

  7. NorCalNative says:

    This isn’t what democracy or freedom look like.

    Proportionality in this case is so distorted that the White House petition to have her removed from her job is just and reasonable.

    And she’s a Democrat?

    • Jose says:

      Scalia is the only Republican who sided with the Democrats when they put the drug war exception to the Constitution into effect.

      • Duncan20903 says:


        Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not a Republican. He may well have been our most left leaning POTUS in our history.

        In the 1930s neither the House or Senate was controlled by Republicans. It may well have been our most left leaning Congress in our history.

        You might have heard the story that FDR tried to “stack” the Supreme Court along with the fiction that his attempt to do so was thwarted. The so called “drug war exception” is embodied in Wickard v Fiburn 317 U.S. 111 (1942) and when decided 8 of the 9 Justices were nominated by Mr. Roosevelt. It may well have been the most left leaning SCOTUS in our history. That single case is the precedential authority on which the Federal power to regulate substances on the naughty list is founded.

        I always get a morbid sense of amusement when I hear the liberals who dress in conservative drag and call themselves Republicans casting prohibition as a conservative value. Gosh, what other public policies that were created by dogmatic liberals do the so called conservatives try to claim as their own?

        The problem with casting this issue as a blue v red controversy and thinking that the liberals are our friends is the presumption that the government has the right to micromanage our lives and to criminalize based on perceived safety issues. IMO this is an issue of essential liberty and self ownership which are two of the fundamental values of being conservative.

  8. stlgonzo says:

    Radley Balko with a good article as well.

    The Power Of The Prosecutor

  9. Servetus says:

    Prosecutorial abuse appears to know no bounds. In an article describing anti-abortionist inspired arrests of pregnant women we find these examples:

    In Texas, a pregnant woman who sometimes smoked marijuana to ease nausea and boost her appetite gave birth to healthy twins. She was arrested for delivery of a controlled substance to a minor.

    And this:

    …last week, a Tennessee woman who had been in a car accident was tested to see if she had been driving under the influence of alcohol. According to local press, her blood alcohol content was well below the legal limit. Nevertheless, because she told a police officer that she was four months pregnant, she was arrested and taken to jail. Tennessee apparently recognizes a special crime reserved just for pregnant women: driving while not intoxicated.

    One of the characteristics of bad laws is that such laws tend to get used for everything but their intended purpose. In this case, it’s to force the acceptance by the judicial system that an embryo is a person. Given that the drug laws already carry with them a constitutional exception, drug laws tend to be very useful for promoting constitutional exceptions that affect other areas of law.

  10. Jose says:

    Sue for abuse of process and malicious prosecution. Make a motion to change the venue if you think you may get a better chance somewhere else.

    Until we get rid of Justice Scalia’s drug war exception to the Constitution we are basically screwed.

    • War Vet says:

      The U.S. Constitution, 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act and Hemp for Victory laws directly state that the war on drugs is a felony akin to treason, fraud (cops making 100% profit though they cannot 100% finish the task by stopping 100% of all the drugs/users in a few years or decades), human rights violations, misappropriation of funds, quartering of troops violation (cops occupying homes physically or with legal work), monopolies, trusts, tax evasion (by not allowing American hemp to be taxes), forced unemployment/underemployment, segregation, kidnapping (arresting someone for drugs and forcing them to pay to get out), hostage taking (gangs controlling the street, cops in drug raids/vehicle/pedestrian searches, theft (seized property), permitting sexual assault, slavery (by forcing Americans to be in debt by forcing Americans to have less jobs, less consumer goods and less government for their buck because of the cost of the war on drugs).

      The Drug War should be nullified based on the grounds it directly poses a threat to the American Nation, her embassies, citizens abroad and at home and borders as seen on 9/11, Benghazi/Kenya/Tanzania and Mexico, L.A., Beirut, Brooklyn, U.S.S. Cole, The Philippines, Mumbai etc. The War on Drugs is illegal because it is a threat to our troops as well i.e. Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mexico, Columbia, Panama, Philippines, Africa, Yemen etc. The War on Drugs should be repealed on the grounds of commerce and fair business practices already protected by the 1890 Sherman-Anti Trust Act: The War on Drugs keeps hemp and millions of jobs and consumer goods unavailable for the consumer and also forces the consumer to buy foreign hemp or objects and fuels coming from alternative materials like petrol, petrol plastics etc –which is illegal since the Sherman Anti-Trust Act protects industrial hemp . . . it allows criminals to stockpile our money, which forces our currency out of circulation for the workers and consumers. The War on Drugs should be repealed based on the grounds it has amounted to $6-8 Trillion of our debt (denied hemp for decades, denied jobs, prison, denied jobs and consumer spending on part of drug offenders and their families, War, terrorism, eco system, more crime and violence, U.S. legal tender being kept underground and out of banks for recirculation, denied taxes, Urban Sprawl, overpopulation of areas only accessible by the poor, decreased education decreasing future gains [like hemp technologies not yet existing based on lack of hemp needs and jobs]. Etc) The War on Drugs should be outlawed because it directly harms the supplies of the U.S. Military who in past times have used hemp and are now denied hemp during a time of war, which means supplies are more expensive if they cannot be grown and locally acquired . . . it decreases the U.S. Military’s food supply during a time of war by not allowing the very healthy hemp seeds. The War on Drugs is technically illegal because it denies hundreds of millions of Americans access to American grown food sources found in the form of hemp seeds, which would decrease the spending on the remainder of the U.S. food supplies by the addition of other food sources/competition . . . the War on Drugs is illegal because it creates the drug black market directly, which directly funds gangs, criminals, terrorists and insurgents battling U.S. forces (which is treason).

  11. claygooding says:

    Marijuana task force gets to work

    “”When Colorado voters passed Amendment 64, legalizing the personal possession, use and home growing of marijuana, the state faced the challenge of developing the rules and regulations so the amendment can be implemented.

    The first step to deal with challenges came when Gov. John Hickenlooper created the 24-member Amendment 64 Task Force on Dec. 10 because, while voters legalized marijuana in Colorado, all aspects remain illegal under federal law.

    “The task force met for the first time Dec. 17 and since then, we have set up five working groups, each tasked with investigation of a specific area dealing with implementation of Amendment 64,” said state Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who is a task force member. “All the meetings of the task force and the working groups are posted on the state Department of Revenue’s website. All those meetings are open to the public and there is a public comment period at every meeting.”” ‘snipped’

    It looks as if CO is continuing towards setting up it’s marijuana market too dark.

  12. allan says:

    OT… but in need of rebuttal:

    Will Wooton: Legalizing pot won’t unburden legal system (my comment is “awaiting moderation”)

    and this POS at the WSJ by Mitchell S. Rosenthal (no relation that I know to Ed),. Dr. Rosenthal, a child psychiatrist, is the founder of Phoenix House, the nation’s largest nonprofit substance-abuse treatment and prevention organization. Legalizing Pot Won’t Make It Any Safer

  13. Pingback: Exclusive: Aaron Swartz’s Partner, Expert Witness Say Prosecutors Unfairly … – Democracy Now :: Fraud News

  14. War Vet says:

    He gave his life for the country -like all War Heroes. I think people like him need a place to rest in Virginia near the Capital with the like of Space Men and other national heroes.

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