Federal Prosecutor in Aaron Swartz Case Accused of Misconduct

Federal prosecutor Stephen Heymann is accused of withholding exculpatory evidence in the Aaron Swartz case:

Heymann took the lead in the much-criticized effort to imprison Swartz, who committed suicide in January, and was the attorney who handled the case on a day-to-day basis, reporting to U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. Swartz’ attorney Eliot Peters has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility, a step that indicates just how egregious the defense team considers Heymann’s professional behavior. A redacted version of the letter was obtained by The Huffington Post.

In the document, Peters argues that Heymann withheld exculpatory evidence. At issue was whether the federal government had properly obtained a warrant to search Swartz’ computer and thumb drive. Peters argued that the government failed by waiting more than a month to obtain the warrant. Heymann countered that he couldn’t get a warrant because he didn’t have access to the equipment. But an email in Heymann’s possession, which was written to Heymann himself, showed that assertion to be untrue.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.

Comments

  1. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    I’m sure Attorney General Eric Holder will have this straightened out in no time at all because Mr. Holder is an honorable man and Mr. Swartz is, no doubt, one of “his people”.

  2. rudderpedals says:

    This looks very ugly.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    “a step that indicates just how egregious the defense team considers Heymann’s professional behavior.”

    Or more exactly, a step that indicates that they are fishing for support for a civil lawsuit.

  4. legion says:

    The tragedy is not how Swartz was treated – the tragedy is that it appears to be standard procedure for prosecutors from the federal level on down…

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    At issue was whether the federal government had properly obtained a warrant to search Swartz’ computer and thumb drive.

    Let’s assume that the prosecutor did not, indeed, obtained a proper warrant. Is “exculpatory” the right word to describe that? “Exculpatory” is used to refer to evidence that shows that someone is not guilty of wrongdoing. It’s from the Latin exculpare, ex-, from, culpa, fault or blame.

    Does this do that? Or does is just make the case unprosecutable?

  6. PD Shaw says:

    @Dave, good question. Traditionally, under the Brady Rule, exculpatory evidence was evidence that supported a claim of innocence. In Brady, the police/prosecutor refused to tell the defendant that someone else had confessed to the murder with which he was being charged.

    Here, the complaint is not about evidence of innocence, but evidence that they would use to try to suppress incriminating evidence. I don’t know if the same rules apply, but I don’t think this was the type of evidence that they were thinking about at the time of Brady.

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Sorry to be a wet blanket, but whomever wrote that article for Huffington Post knows about as much about criminal procedure as a doornail knows about building houses.

    If the issue is “whether the federal government had properly obtained a warrant to search Swartz’ computer and thumb drive” then by definition the matter cannot involve a withholding of exculpatory evidence. Apples, oranges. It’s a completely oxymoronic article, written by a loopy amateur with miminal knoweldge and undoubtedly zero actual experience. IOW it’s a liberal media account. It’s worth precisely what you paid to read it.

    That’s not to say the prosecutor here didn’t engage in misconduct. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe the truth lies somewhere between those two poles. We simply don’t know. And with the “quality” of reporting endemic to rag sites such as HuffPo we might never truly find out.

  8. Barry says:

    @PD Shaw: “Or more exactly, a step that indicates that they are fishing for support for a civil lawsuit. ”

    More power to them. I hope that Heymann gets f*cked over for this, and really, really hard.