Well, that’s not quite fair. I mean, everyone already knew that the only reason serious charges were ever considered was because Carmen Ortiz wanted to make an example of some guy. But it’s one thing for everyone to “know” that, and another entirely to find the paper trail confirming it.
Had Ms. Ortiz not decided that ridiculously trumped-up charges against some rebellious guy were the best way to advance her career, it turns out, Mr. Swartz would have faced the horrible trauma of having his charges continued without a finding – that is to say, no trial, no sentencing, but rather the court would let him know that they have the option of charging him with a crime over this. And then, unless he got in more trouble, the charges would go away without even becoming a criminal record of any sort. Like probation, only without even an original charge or sentence. This is what you do if you want to send a warning that someone’s behavior is inappropriate, but you don’t think you really need to do anything else to clear things up, because everyone agrees that the person in question is a brilliant and highly valued contributor to society who does not appear to have harmed anyone, or even intended any harm to anyone.
So it’s not that our entire justice system is crazy. It’s that certain people think that their best chance at political gain is to manufacture obviously bogus and trumped-up charges, and demand that people plead guilty to multiple felonies or face an extremely expensive and painful trial with no guarantee of ever walking free again.
This is not a tragic but inevitable outcome of prosecutors doing their jobs in a remotely ethical or responsible way; this is a tragic but entirely avoidable outcome of a specific prosecutor ignoring the job duties in favor of trying to build political credibility by scoring big points.