The recent suicide of Aaron Swartz has provoked a great deal of public discussion of what many consider to be overreaching by federal prosecutors in his case. In the view of some critics, Swartz’s theft of academic articles from JSTOR would have been more properly handled as a minor property offense in state court. Instead, Swartz found himself in federal court facing a possible 35 years in prison and a set of charges invoking a variety of obscure federal criminal statutes.
Whatever the merits of the criticisms, they have served to draw public attention to the extraordinary power exercised by federal prosecutors and the uncertain line between what is most appropriately handled in state court and what is most appropriately handled in federal.
Although the Swartz litigation is now presumably over, another case that has provoked similar charges of prosecutorial overreaching is now on its way to the Supreme Court . . . for a second time. (more…)