It has been a little more than a year since 26-year-old computer programmer wiz Aaron Swartz committed suicide after a federal prosecutor charged him (many say overcharged him) with 13 felonies for hacking into an M.I.T. computer system and downloading old academic journals. Swartz’s suicide renewed a long-running argument about the evils of plea bargaining.
A new documentary about the much-too-short life of Swartz, “The Internet’s Own Boy,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last week. Check out the following teaser for the documentary, and click here for a review of the film in the New Yorker.
Plea Bargaining: Necessary Evil Or Unconstitutional Retaliation For Exercising Right To Trial By Jury?Posted: January 19, 2013
The recent suicide of Aaron Swartz–the 26-year-old computer programmer wiz kid who faced serious charges for allegedly violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act–has energized a long running debate about the constitutionality and wisdom of a practice known as plea bargaining. A plea bargain is essentially a contract or agreement between the government and the defendant. The defendant agrees to plead guilty to a less serious charge in exchange for the prosecutor dismissing the more serious charges and/or agreeing to a reduced sentence. Proponents of plea bargaining argue that defendants are presented with a fair choice that they can freely make and that unnecessary trials are avoided, thereby reducing the burden on the courts and the government. Opponents argue that there is nothing fair or free about the choice that plea bargains present. Defendants are asked to make a choice under duress, with the proverbial gun to their head, because the charges and possible prison sentences they face if they don’t accept the plea bargain are draconian. The result is not the avoidance of unnecessary trials, but the imposition of an unconstitutional penalty on defendants who want to exercise their Sixth Amendment right to a trial.