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I certainly wouldn't presume to tell someone close to the situation what the cause was, but that doesn't mean I uncritically accept their view. Having a history of depression and having made a couple of suicide attempts in the (now-distant) past, here are some things that come to mind while reading her argument that Aaronsw didn't exhibit the typical clinical markers of depression:

a) having a list of symptoms doesn't fully equip someone to make clinical decisions about their presence or absence, especially when one is trying to wrap one's head around them in the wake of a tragic event. Psychiatry is nowhere near being an exact science, but a list of symptoms doesn't put one the same plane as a psychiatrist who is familiar with the terms of art, statistical methods and so forth that go into the development of evaluation scales. Psychiatry may grope its way through the dark, but it does attempt to do so in a systematic fashion.

b) one might argue that the 'the Aaron she knew' didn't exhibit the typical symptoms of exhaustion either.

c) depression isn't some amorphous thing that follows one around like a personal raincloud independent of circumstances, but is rather a factor that weights a person's thought processes to varying degrees depending on time and context. Phrases such as 'pessimistic arrogance' loom large to me, as does this example:

Sam gave Aaron a quick overview of Australian politics; Aaron expressed astonishment at how easy it would be to “take over Australia”, but concluded that a country of only 20 million probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Self-esteem, needless to say, was definitely not Aaron’s problem.

Sometimes, statements tell you more about the person making them than the ostensible subject. This doesn't mean that the person is lying or concealing their feelings, but that those feelings are unconsciously attached to external subjects in order to give them an outlet. Arrogance is not a good proxy for self-esteem at all in my own case; quite the reverse.

d) What people tell you and what they do don't always match; sometimes they may conceal the truth about their feelings of activities for reasons ranging from embarrassment, to pessimism about the ability of others to understand, to not wishing to be a burden. When one is depressed, even other people's expressions of love and support can be exhausting to deal with and it may be preferable to avert them by cultivating an air of positivity. This isn't a case of dishonesty so much as trying to think oneself healthy again.

e) profound capacity for pleasure in everyday life...finely honed aesthetic sense Again, I don't find this incompatible with the presence of depression. The stars shine particularly brightly at night, so to speak.

There are a lot of factors that lead into a person's choice to commit suicide, and they're not IMHO amenable to simple binary decompositions. Just as the number of people with depression vastly exceeds the number of people who commit suicide, so does the number of people who are confronted with alarming legal burdens, both civil and criminal.

Please consider the points above as an attempt at supplementation rather than disputation.




His documented behavior certainly suggested bipolar or BPD, both of which unfortunately do have a high rate of suicide.


Absolutely, on all points. If anyone thinks I'm arguing that prosecution leads to suicide (even aggressive prosecution), or that Ortiz or anyone in her office is solely responsible for his suicide, then I apologize: that wasn't my intent.

I do think that there are some fundamental questions about the circumstances though:

- Was the prosecution disproportionate to the crime? (I think it was; I'd be interested to hear articulate opinions to the contrary.)

- In Aaron's specific case, should the prosecution have taken his mental health into consideration? (I think so; I can't figure out how to argue this from a moral standpoint, because I can't think of any common ground I'd have with a person who disagreed morally. However, there is at least a legal basis for it: law already considers insanity to be a suitable defense under certain circumstances, so I can't think of a legal reason why in principle Aaron's mental state should not have been a consideration in his case, especially given my opinion on the first point above.)

- In the general case, is there room for reform of overzealous prosecution? (I think so, yes.)

- In Aaron's specific case, does Ortiz's office share some responsibility for Aaron's death? (I think so, unquestionably. I think a plausible test for responsibility is whether one's actions could have been different, whether those actions should have been different, whether the actions were reasonable given the facts at the time, and whether different actions could have resulted in a better outcome. On the first point, I think it's been made clear that there was room for a reasonable plea bargain, and the prosecutors rejected it. The second point goes back to whether or not law should recognize mental health issues in cases like Aaron's, which is perhaps still debatable, though I think it should. On the third point, no, I don't think the actions of the office were, or are, reasonable: I don't think that Heymann's response to Aaron's attorney when notified of the potential for suicide should have essentially been "go piss up a rope", and I don't think that Ortiz, during the fallout from this case, should have said essentially, "there is nothing that my office could have done better." On the final point, Taren seems to be making a strong argument that the most immediate cause for Aaron's suicide was the circumstances of his case, and I don't think I'm in a position to doubt her judgement on this point.)

- Does the HN community also share some responsibility for Aaron's suicide? (I think so, unfortunately. I think it's clear from comment threads about his case that there was not much support for him here, and I think there should have been. Disappointingly, some of the tone from those earlier threads is still present, even in this one, as with Millennium's comment at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5165280. I think it's less clear whether or not a different response to his case on HN would have changed the outcome, but I don't see that as a worthwhile argument against behaving better.)


We're basically on the same page and I agree that there are a lot of questions worth considering; as someone that was rather dismissive of aaronsw's course of action in the first place, I've certainly been thinking about how I expressed those views, even though my views have not changed much since.

The only thing I'd add for consideration here is that it's not really the prosecution's job to worry about a defendant's mental state; as I understand it, it's up to the defense team to bring that sort of issue to the attention of the court (ie the judge). Not to do so, but then to bring the matter up in negotiation, looks an awful lot like an attempt at manipulation instead of a sincere concern. The whole idea of the court as a neutral finder-of-fact is to provide defendants with an unbiased ear for such issues so that they're not dependent on the good will of prosecutors.


Yeah. Just to be clear, I don't think prosecutors should have to wring their hands and back away from plea bargaining every time any defendant claims emotional distress. I do think there should be a framework for evaluating claims of defendants being at risk for self-harm and then selecting appropriate courses of action; in Aaron's case I think that prior evidence (e.g. content from his blog) as well as the nature of his crime should have been suitable grounds for an adjusted plea bargain under this hypothetical framework.

Courts are messy affairs; there's still a lot we don't know, like the disposition of the judge, so I can accept that the defense should have brought that to the court, but would rebut that we don't know that they didn't, or that they weren't able to for some reason. Either way, I don't think that completely exonerates the prosecutor's office in this case.

Thanks for the calm, reasoned discussion.




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