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letters | us attorney under fire in swartz case

Defendants bend under tyranny of plea deal

MOST of us know that we have a criminal justice system that rewards confession with leniency. Many are less aware of the coin’s other side — that the few who contemplate asking a judge and jury to decide whether they are guilty are threatened with far greater punishment solely for exercising their right to a trial.

In the Aaron Swartz case, the US attorney apparently offered six months but threatened many years. Such a disparity has nothing to do with determining guilt and appropriate sentencing, and everything to do with protecting the overwhelming power of the prosecution and its interest in coercing the vast majority of defendants to plead guilty.

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The system is omnipresent in the federal courts, and if Carmen Ortiz deserves criticism, then so does every other US attorney. It’s shameful that it took a suicide to bring the issue to broad public attention.

Michael Meltsner


The writer is a professor at Northeastern University School of Law.

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