Ethics in Hindsight: The Nation Reflects on Aaron Swartz Case, Prosecutorial Discretion

New Product: Prosecutorial Discretion in Charging and Plea Bargaining: The Aaron Swartz Case (B)


Aaron Swartz

The B case, now available, is an epilogue to Part A, the main discussion stimulus. Part A asks participants to consider the prosecutorial decisions and ethics of Aaron Swartz’s case. Swartz was a 24-year-old Internet prodigy, charged with computer fraud for downloading much of the JSTOR online journal database while on the campus of MIT. The prosecution offered multiple plea bargains, but Swartz refused to plead guilty to any felony counts. Two years went by, with pre-trial negotiations escalating and then reaching a stalemate. Just before Swartz’s trial was slated to begin, Swartz committed suicide.

B cases can provide resolution, or chronicle the lack thereof. In Part B, participants read about how the public and the government reacted to Swartz’s death: Twitter uproar, White House petitions, Congressional hearings, legislation proposals, death threats. The B case also discusses the results of MIT’s internal ethics review.

The B case is two and a half pages, short enough to distribute and read in class. Educators can ask: How should the government respond to the citizen petitions to dismiss the prosecutors? How does MIT’s review compare to the class’s assessment of the case? What role should named victims play in the process of prosecution? Is legislation the best way to shape the ethics of prosecution?

Educators may also consider assigning Part B as optional reading after the case is taught in class.

The Aaron Swartz case is available free of charge on the HLS Case Studies website.

About Elizabeth Moroney

Case Studies Editorial Assistant
This entry was posted in Case Study Program Blog Posts. Bookmark the permalink.