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.

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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