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Aaron Swartz Could Have Committed Murder or Robbed a Bank and Faced Less Time in Prison

· United States (psa 33:12) · 1 Comment

Founder of Reddit and community web developer Aaron Swartz recently committed suicide in the wake of what would’ve been massive charges against him. In an outright misuse of the Justice system, Prosecutors were aiming to give Swartz upwards of fifty years in prison for allegedly using MIT’s computer network to download millions of academic articles, without authorization.

According to the charges from Prosecutor, Swartz’s sentence would’ve been less if he committed murder or robbed a bank. From Tech Dirt:

Among the many injustices in the Justice Department’s pursuit of Aaron Swartz was the disproportionate punishment he was facing. Remember that he used an open network connection at MIT, which explicitly allowed free guest access, to download academic research papers that were available for free for any user on that particular network. And yet, due to the US Attorney’s Office led by Carmen Ortiz and Steve Heymann piling on additional charges, Swartz was potentially facing 50 years in prison.

Yes, reports claimed that Heymann offered to plea bargain things down to a mere 7 years in prison, but that’s still an insane length, and by rejecting such a plea offer, Swartz guaranteed that Heymann was likely to throw the book at him and seek the maximum. That’s how they work.

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz was a co-owner of Reddit, the web’s most popular bulletin board. Photograph: Fred Benenson/

Think Progress developed a list of crimes Swartz could’ve committed and received a lesser sentence.

  • Manslaughter: Federal law provides that someone who kills another human being “[u]pon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if subject to federal jurisdiction. The lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of only six years.
  • Bank Robbery: A person who “by force and violence, or by intimidation” robs a bank faces amaximum prison sentence of 20 years. If the criminal “assaults any person, or puts in jeopardy the life of any person by the use of a dangerous weapon or device,” this sentence is upped to a maximum of 25 years.
  • Selling Child Pornography: The maximum prison sentence for a first-time offender who “knowingly sells or possesses with intent to sell” child pornography in interstate commerce is 20 years. Significantly, the only way to produce child porn is to sexually molest a child, which means that such a criminal is literally profiting off of child rape or sexual abuse.
  • Knowingly Spreading AIDS: A person who “after testing positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and receiving actual notice of that fact, knowingly donates or sells, or knowingly attempts to donate or sell, blood, semen, tissues, organs, or other bodily fluids for use by another, except as determined necessary for medical research or testing” faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
  • Selling Slaves: Under federal law, a person who willfully sells another person “into any condition of involuntary servitude” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, although the penalty can be much higher if the slaver’s actions involve kidnapping, sexual abuse or an attempt to kill.
  • Genocidal Eugenics: A person who “imposes measures intended to prevent births” within a particular racial, ethnic or religious group or who “subjects the group to conditions of life that are intended to cause the physical destruction of the group in whole or in part” faces amaximum prison term of 20 years, provided their actions did not result in a death.
  • Helping al-Qaeda Develop A Nuclear Weapon: A person who “willfully participates in or knowingly provides material support or resources . . . to a nuclear weapons program or other weapons of mass destruction program of a foreign terrorist power, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be imprisoned for not more than 20 years.”
  • Violence At International Airports: Someone who uses a weapon to “perform[] an act of violence against a person at an airport serving international civil aviation that causes or is likely to cause serious bodily injury” faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if their actions do not result in a death.
  • Threatening The President: A person who threatens to kill the President, the President-elect, the Vice President or the Vice President-elect faces a maximum prison term of 5 years.
  • Assaulting A Supreme Court Justice: Assaults against very senior government officials, including Members of Congress, cabinet secretaries or Supreme Court justices are punished by a maximum prison sentence of just one year. If the assault “involved the use of a dangerous weapon, or personal injury results,” the maximum prison term is 10 years.

Read more on Think Progress.