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rayiner 443 days ago | link | parent

Did it occur to you that the facts with which you are acquainted are not the relevant ones?

Indeed, if you're talking about laying the blame for Aaron's suicide on the feet of Carmen Ortiz, isn't it patently ridiculous to consider the intimate facts of his situation relevant? Are we now to charge prosecutors with being sensitive to the details of the personal lives of the people which they prosecute?



knowtheory 443 days ago | link

Dude, you're being that guy. Don't be that guy.

Why shouldn't a prosecutor consider the personal circumstance of the accused? Certainly this is done in a variety of ways in the law, the decision as to whether a crime has been committed, the decision as to whether to charge an individual, what charges are brought against that individual.

Particularly in the case where prosecutors have wide discretion, such as in the case of computer crimes, the question really should be, on what basis are prosecutors making decisions?

And in the event that prosecutors are making capricious or unjust, or disproportionate decisions, then shouldn't they be faced with the consequences of their actions? Shouldn't they consider that they can both ruin and in some cases contribute to the end of someone's life?

Even if you don't think this is part of jurisprudence per se, do we not have an obligation to our fellow man?

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rayiner 443 days ago | link

"That guy" in what sense? The one that thinks that it's not justifiable to accuse someone of causing someone else to kill themselves? I'm making a moral argument, not a jurisprudential one. We are responsible for the consequences of our actions, but our obligation to our fellow man is circumscribed by context and reasonable expectations. There may be situations in which it is reasonable to expect someone to kill himself, but this was not one of those situations. Carmen Ortiz cannot be held responsible, morally, for someone's unreasonable reaction to her actions. There are things you can hold her responsible for, morally, but suicide is not one of them.

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knowtheory 443 days ago | link

"That guy" in the sense that the case you're making sounds very much as if you are contradicting people who do have intimate knowledge of Aaron Swartz's situation.

Your case is that the culpability for Swartz's death rests solely with Swartz. Swartz's friends and family have asserted with unanimity that Swartz's life was dominated by this prosecution. Ergo, the series of events culminating in Swartz's suicide would not have happened had he not been prosecuted, or, more importantly, prosecuted in this particular way.

When you assert that Ortiz's office is not culpable, it sounds very much like you are contradicting the prosecution's role in Swartz's life and death.

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rayiner 443 days ago | link

Evaluating whether Ortiz is culpable according to our common morality does not require understanding the specifics of his situation. For any given event, there are an infinite number of causes without which that even would not have happened or would not have happened in that way. Ortiz's prosecution was certainly one of those causes. But it was obviously not the only one, because if it were then that would mean that aggressive prosecution was by itself sufficient to cause someone to commit suicide, which cannot be true because the vast majority of people do not commit suicide in response to aggressive prosecution.

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wglb 443 days ago | link

Except that this was the second suicide of someone under prosecution by this office.

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tptacek 443 days ago | link

It is not reasonable to presume that people are likely to commit suicide over the threat of a 6 month prison sentence. You know that I think the Heymann prosecution was way out of line, but your argument here is a caricature.

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rayiner 443 days ago | link

Out of how many umpteen cases the office handles each year? A big district like D. Mass has tens of thousands of active criminal cases at any given time.

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thaumaturgy 443 days ago | link

Referencing your earlier comment (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5165258), this is a perfect example of what happens when lawyers stop thinking about people and start thinking about cases: it becomes OK that people involved in the case are killing themselves, so long as it doesn't exceed some percentage of cases.

I try really hard not to be one of those laymen that regards all lawyers as soulless, but this right here is the kind of thing that leads to that opinion of the law profession.

"But they handle tens of thousands of cases" should never be used as a defense in the death of a litigant -- a person. At the very least, the death of a litigant should force all parties involved to examine their actions and see if they might have been able to do anything reasonable to prevent it. Justifying it in the abstract, saying essentially that it's OK as long as it's not too many, is despicable.

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rayiner 443 days ago | link

Your ad hominem-fueled rage is clouding your reading comprehension. If you read down from that sub-thread, you'll see I'm talking about Carmen Ortiz's moral culpability being bound by her reasonable expectations about the situation. One previous suicide out of tens of thousands of prosecutions in her office is insufficient to show that she should have reasonably expected aggressive prosecution could have led to another suicide. You can't blame people for consequences they couldn't reasonably have been expected to see coming, and suicide is almost always such a consequence.

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anthonyb 443 days ago | link

Except that the prosecution was warned that Aaron might be suicidal.

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tptacek 443 days ago | link

"That guy" appears to mean that because Bill Lederer knows Aaron's parents not to have been depressed, and because Aaron's girlfriend believed him not to have been depressed, it is unreasonable to question whether someone who committed suicide over a 6 month prison term was depressed.

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thaumaturgy 443 days ago | link

> Are we now to charge prosecutors with being sensitive to the details of the personal lives of the people which they prosecute?

Yes.

A justice system that does not behave as though it is dealing with human lives is one which will corrupt itself into encouraging prosecutors to win cases, instead of seek justice.

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rayiner 443 days ago | link

Do we design cars so that not a single person ever dies? Do we design medicine so a single person never dies? You can't design a realistic justice system that doesn't have unfair outcomes sometimes any more than you can design a test for cancer that never has false positives.

Outside this particularly sympathetic context, I'd say people want their justice system to be fairly neutral and not swayed by the specifics of peoples' circumstances.

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gsharm 443 days ago | link

Any system - especially a justice system - unable to take into account peoples' circumstances is not only wasteful, but dangerous. Neutrality does not transcend doing the right thing. Justice isn't a product that is packaged and sold, it is a service, rendered on a case-by-case basis. It is done that way so that the context can be understood sufficiently well in each case. In this case it either wasn't, or they simply didn't care, or were negligent. This is wrong and it needs to be fixed.

What is your agenda? It seems as if you think the system is fine, and cannot and should not improve. Why?

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rayiner 443 days ago | link

I don't have an agenda, and I don't think the system is fine. I do, however, think a lot of people are being grandiose in condemning Carmen Ortiz. I'm an engineer at heart, and we're a conservative breed, preoccupied with tradeoffs and immune to idealistic tropes. I don't think you can get what you want: a justice system that is compassionate and sensitive to the "good guys" and harsh with the "bad guys" and also considers every case meticulously on a case by case basis while also not costing a fortune to run.

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gsharm 443 days ago | link

It does cost a fortune to run. Considering every case meticulously on a case by case basis is exactly what they should be doing. That is not an idealistic expectation, it is a realistic one.

To have an effect, condemnation has to be of sufficient magnitude, such that the problem is acknowledged and recognized. It has to be necessarily grandiose in its nature. Given that you agree that the system is not fine, and can improve, where does your contention lie? How can you deny a problem from being recognized if you wish to solve it?

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unreal37 440 days ago | link

"Mr Prosecutor, yes I killed that guy. But in my defense, my wife was shouting at me earlier in the day and it made me upset. I had been fired from my job the day before, and didn't have a new job lined up yet. So I got angry at the grocery store over raising the price of milk, and killed the cashier. Please consider this and drop some of the charges."

"Ohhh your wife was shouting at you? I hear ya, buddy. I'll drop most of the charges and you won't have to go to jail for murder..."

I mean, come on. We can't take people's personal circumstances that are unrelated to the crime into account. No matter if you are rich or poor, married or single, working or unemployed, kids or no kids, you should get equal treatment under the law. I can't believe people are arguing that "possibly suicidal" people should have charges reduced. If that was true, everyone charged with a crime would claim to be suicidal...

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gsharm 435 days ago | link

The logical conclusion of what you're suggesting is a system where only outcomes are looked at and assessed, little about the person leading up to outcome is understood, and nothing is learned, because it's somehow unacceptable to understand individual circumstances. But surely you see that it's in our own collective interests to learn why things are the way they are, instead of just indiscriminately slapping parking tickets on everything that looks bad and hoping our problems will go away?

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thaumaturgy 443 days ago | link

When people die in car accidents, "we" investigate why they died and try to figure out how to build better cars in the future. I'm alive today thanks to that process.

That's a hell of a lot more than Carmen Ortiz has decided to do.

You are defending your profession at the expense of your humanity.

I can not think of any more powerful way to state my criticism of your comments here.

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rayiner 443 days ago | link

Your lawyer trolling is asinine. My other degree is aerospace engineering: did you see me falling over myself to defend Boeing in the battery threads? No, because I'm not a caricature and capable of having my own opinions.

It doesn't even make sense--every day engineers and scientists make decisions trading off cost, effectiveness, and preventable death. The accountants and actuaries then sign off on it. It's not a deficiency of the professions, that's just how human society operates. Contrary to your assertion, we do not launch an investigation any time someone dies in a car accident. We don't start posting how the engineers at Ford are morally culpable for the death because if only they had used a more expensive XYZ widget our loved one would still be alive. Sometimes bad things happen and it's not anyone's fault.

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tptacek 443 days ago | link

His profession? He's not a prosecutor. He's not a criminal attorney. Is he even a litigator?

Do I get to inveigh against all software developers every time armed drone C&C software plays a role in killing a civilian somewhere?

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thaumaturgy 443 days ago | link

Sigh. No, but if someone were to criticize a particular group of software developers for writing some armed drone C&C software that had a completely disproportionate effect on its target, and you rushed to defend the software developers using a really thin argument, then I don't think there's anything wrong with pointing out that your association with software developers might be making you less than impartial.

Then of course you could counter-argue that the person doing the criticizing was related to some of the people that were killed, and therefore they might not be impartial either, even though I never said (nor would have suggested) otherwise, and even though that does nothing to make you look less prejudiced.

And then the whole stupid thing could continue to spiral out of control until someone else suddenly showed up late to the argument and brought with them some absurd analogy that requires some serious stretching to be at all applicable to the discussion at hand...

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tptacek 443 days ago | link

I don't concede that he did defend the prosecutor. He said the prosecutor didn't cause a suicide. It does not follow from that that Rayiner approves of the prosecutor's actions.

But your logic wouldn't work even if we stipulated that he defended the prosecutor, because defending prosecutors doesn't make you a prosecutor.

It's you, who tried to cut short a debate by saying that Rayiner was defending "his profession" and talking his own book, who's making the dubious argument.

Nobody is calling you out on it because we're all upset about Aaron Swartz and we can obviously all see which way the wind is blowing on the topic here. But I like Rayiner and would like to see him stick around here, so I'll say it: you're out of line. Stop it.

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thaumaturgy 443 days ago | link

I had already stopped before you jumped in, jackass. I've been saving some pretty severe words for you, but they should wait until I'm not seeing red anymore.

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