What is interesting is that if we all do what Aaron did and refuse to take the deal, the courts would eventually be unable to handle all the cases. The USA simply arrests too many people each year for everyone to exercise their right to a trial. I suspect that if hundreds of thousands of people flagrantly committed felonies and demanded a jury trial, it would be one of the most effective forms of civil disobedience in the history of our country.
Of course, that means organizing hundreds of thousands of people and convincing them to put their lives and livelihoods on the line.
...and commit some sort of federal offense, to boot. At most you could take out a victimless crime that conscionable people would violate, but you wouldn't change the whole system.
They could even use prosecutorial discretion to ignore the federal offenses committed purely out of civil disobedience.
Also, you can't say what Aaron would or would not have done in response to the still-in-negotiation plea bargaining that was happening in his case. He could have chosen a plea bargain, or he could have chosen to go to trial, but he took a far more tragic third option.
That's a whole lot more feasible when you're worried about misdemeanor being-black-and-on-a-bus-or-drinking-from-a-fountain, vs. 10+ year federal felony convictions (and thus ~lifetime ban on ~most employment).
Yes, because black people in America certainly only had to worry about which seat was reserved for them on the bus, and not lynchings, beatings, rapes, flaming crosses, police dogs, high-pressure fire hoses, or white juries as peers of their white attackers.
P.S. Felony convictions are not a lifetime employment ban, especially for "white-collar" felonies.
If I had to choose between, on the one hand, being physically assaulted, and on the other hand, being prosecuted by federal prosecutors and imprisoned for ten years, I would not hesitate for one second to choose to be physically assaulted. Aaron Swartz literally chose to "lynch" himself over the alternative. Ask any prisoner serving a multi-year sentence in any prison whether they would wrestle a police dog if it meant they could have a clean record and go home.
The government learned from the civil rights movement. They learned how to avoid it. Hitting people with a fire hose or burning a cross makes the targets righteous and sympathetic and makes the stupid Klansmen look like stupid Klansmen. Hitting people with a federal felony prosecution makes the targets powerless and penniless and lets the prosecutors paint themselves as the heroes doing battle with nefarious criminals.
>Are you suggesting death is preferable to six months in prison and a felony conviction?
If I had to guess, he wasn't weighing it against the plea bargain, he had already decided not to take the plea bargain on principle and was weighing it against the cost of taking charity and bankrupting all his friends and family to fight it and even after all that still possibly losing and going to prison for multiple years. In other words, taking the plea would have had the additional cost to his integrity, which even in this day and age still means a lot to some people.
I don't know if I would go so far as to say that the decision was rational (and I know the suicide prevention people hate it when people talk about stuff like this), but I can see the road he took to get there. Being human isn't always rational and we have to make policies under the understanding that people will have feelings and principles rather than making all decisions as rational automatons.
>Would that it were--we'd save a fortune on federal prisoners by executing them all!
No we wouldn't. It costs more to execute someone than imprison them because of the cost of all the appeals and safeguards we have for death penalty cases.
But even though you're kidding, I think it raises a pretty reasonable point: Why do we even have prisons at all, other than as detention facilities for pending death penalty cases? If someone commits a sufficiently serious crime (or re-offends sufficiently many times), put them to death. If their crime was less serious than that, make them pay back their ill gotten gains, subject them to a fine or make them do community service 20 hours a week for however many hours or years. What good does it do to imprison someone if you ever intend to let them back out again? Prison costs the state money, it takes the convicts out of the economy and makes them parasites, and when they get out they have no skills and no job history which is one of the many reasons the recidivism rate is so high. Prison is a profoundly broken institution. I think there is a very strong argument for just getting rid of it as a method of punishment.
> I think it raises a pretty reasonable point: Why do we even have prisons at all, other than as detention facilities for pending death penalty cases? If someone commits a sufficiently serious crime (or re-offends sufficiently many times), put them to death.
That's a great insight.
I would point out that prison is still an acceptable in-between for community service and death. E.g. what happens if the convict simply doesn't show up for their community service?
Depriving someone of their own free use of their time is a powerful motivational tool (just ask anyone who's ever had to "hurry up and wait" in the military).
However any possible positive effect you would get from prison, either for rehabilitation or non-recurrence, would be had within the first year, two at the most.
Any prison sentence beyond that and you have to wonder what the marginal additional value is (I would think none).
I'm not sure if you're entirely serious about the death penalty for sufficiently serious crimes, but the normal argument is that even if that were acceptable in theory, that it's been proven not implementable in practice, and we'd rather optimize for not accidentally putting something to death who is innocent.
This itself could be fleshed out further though... governments all the times do things (or don't do things) that may indirectly lead to fatalities later on. Things as simple as redirecting a road away from a cliff face to prevent people from driving over the edge at night can save lives, but we as a population generally accept that there is an economic reality that government can't pay to completely prevent all foreseeable accidents. So could you argue from there that if we already let people drive off of cliffs because it's cheaper, that we could let government accidentally execute innocents if it had a net positive outcome?
I don't know... even I'm pretty leery of that logic. Personally if I were to be fradulently convicted I'd rather a lifetime of prison than to be put to death (assuming I could still read, program, etc.)
You can let someone out of prison if they're later proven innocent. You can't let someone out of the grave. That's the main reason.
It's possible he rejected the plea bargain out of hand, though Thoreau, Gandhi, King, and Mandela would all question the assumption that going to prison diminishes the integrity of someone with a noble cause. If he thinks his integrity was better preserved by hanging himself in his apartment and leaving his body there for his girlfriend to discover, he wasn't really thinking clearly at all, was he?
I agree it was worse for them then, but they chose (correctly) to initially confront law abiding adversaries like bus companies vs. protesting to the cross burning violent people. When confronting the federal court system, every single part of it has the ability to shoot you for non-compliance when taken far enough, or lock you away for years.
I thought Aaron was supposed to have been confronting law-abiding adversaries like JSTOR and other academic journal holders.
I wasn't aware that his activism had anything to do with the Federal justice system per se.
Either way, they don't have the option of simply shooting you on a whim (except insofar as anyone could theoretically decide to do that) or locking you away for years either (a jury is also required for this).