Carmen Ortiz

Carmen Ortiz Blows Off Dzhokhar Tsarneav’s Request on His Own Involvement in Waltham

As AP reported, the government reported in motion opposing his discovery requests that Ibragim Todashev told them his brother participated in the 2011 Waltham triple murder.

In any event, the government has already disclosed to Tsarnaev that, according to Todashev, Tamerlan Tsarnaev participated in the Waltham triple homicide. Any benefit to Tsarnaev of knowing more about the precise “nature and extent” of his brother’s involvement does not outweigh the potential harm of exposing details of an ongoing investigation into an extremely serious crime, especially at this stage of the proceedings.

But the motion doesn’t address the full extent of Dzhokhar’s request, which asked for,

All documents concerning the investigation of the triple homicide in Waltham, MA on September 10-11, 2011, including without limitation documents concerning the alleged involvement of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Ibragim Todashev, and/or our client in those murders. [my emphasis]

I’m not saying the government is wrong on the law in this case, and I do wonder whether they didn’t address this because they suspect Dzhokhar was involved in the murder (which would provide the existence of such information more protection).

But I do note their response focuses on whether they have information on Tamerlan and/or Ibragim (the latter of which they say would not be discoverable), not on whether they have information on any involvement Dzhokhar might have had in the killings.

Is Carmen Ortiz Subjecting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Solitary To Prevent Him from Learning about Developments in Florida?

On August 27, Attorney General Eric Holder imposed Special Administrative Measures on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the request of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz. Yesterday, Dzhokhar’s lawyers challenged the SAMs.

Josh Gerstein provides a good overview of the SAMs, but they basically amount to inching Dzhokhar closer to full solitary confinement, as well as reviewing even legal materials his lawyers bring into the prison and prohibiting lawyers and other defense staff from passing on messages from third parties.

The big question is why they’re doing this. The government’s excuses — that Dzhokhar employed “tradecraft” by (in part) throwing away a detonator in the trashcan outside of Gerry’s Italian Kitchen, to which Dzhokhar and his brother had interesting ties; that Dzhokhar’s mother released a recording of a call they had back on May 24 “to generate sympathy;” and that Dzhokhar has received 1,000 pieces of mail — are all absurd. I find it non credible that DOJ considers it “tradecraft” to throw criminal evidence away in a place that should offer up more clues. The call with Dzhokhar’s mother was 3 months before the imposition of the SAMs — and she has obeyed instructions not to repeat it. And, as Dzhokhar’s defense points out, he has not responded to any of that mail, and while some of it consists of people telling him they believe him to be innocent, none of it is “jihadist,” and some even consists of people imploring him to convert to Christianity.

The stated explanations are all ridiculous.

So why did Carmen Ortiz (and not, Dzhokhar’s lawyers point out, prison officials) impose these SAMs over 4 months after Dzhokhar got arrested?

It may be the government just wants to subject Dzhokhar to solitary to make him less defiant in case of any public appearances — to “break” him, just as the US government has used other torture methods for. (Still, if that was the purpose, why not impose them back in April and May, before his arraignment?)

But I’m particularly interested in the way this happened as things have heated up in Florida in the aftermath of FBI’s killing of Ibragim Todashev.

I’ve put the relevant dates below. And while they don’t match exactly, during the same time as Dzhokhar has been subjected to these new measures, the FBI, local authorities, and other federal agencies have been trying to investigate Florida’s Russian immigrant community that had ties to Todashev. While I have no idea why the government would want to prevent Dzhokhar from learning of any of that (nor am I aware of any evidence he knew Todashev or any of the others, though he may have known Todashev from when he lived in MA), I do find the parallel developments to be of interest.

Some of the emphasis, thus far, in how the SAMs have been applied is also of interest. The government won’t let the Defense show Dzhokhar pictures of his family (remember, he has a spooked up uncle). The government will decide what kinds of extremist literature it deems discovery relevant to Dzhokhar’s defense and therefore admissible as legal material.

The latter detail, especially, suggests another possible explanation (and it is just a theory, not one I’m ready to fully support): the government doesn’t want the Defense team to be able to substantiate any other motive for the Boston attack besides the Islamic extremism they’ve publicly claimed and highlight even in the SAM memo.

But I would love to know the real reason they are doing this.

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Aaron Swartz, Plea Leveraging & The Bordenkircher Problem

CryingJusticeAs Netroots Nation 2013 begins, I want to emphasize one of the best panels (If I do say so) of the event. It is titled: Beyond Aaron’s Law: Reining in Prosecutorial Overreach, and will be hosted by Marcy Wheeler. Joining Marcy will be Aaron Swartz’s attorney, Elliot R. Peters, of Keker & Van Nest LLP in San Francisco, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, and Professor Jonathan Simon of Boalt Hall at Berkeley. The panel goes off at 3:00 pm Saturday June 22.

As a lead in to the panel discussion, I want to address a topic that struck me from the first moment of the tragic loss of Aaron Swartz, the pernicious effect of the late 70′s Supreme Court case of Bordenkircher v. Hayes.

Paul Hayes was a defendant on a rather minor (involved $88.30), but still felonious, bad check charge in Kentucky. But Hayes had a bad prior criminal history with two felony priors. The prosecutor offered Hayes a stipulated five year plea, but flat out threatened Hayes that if he didn’t accept the offer, the prosecution would charge and prosecute under Kentucky’s habitual criminal (three strike) law. Hayes balked, went to trial and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison under the habitual offender enhancement charge. It was a prosecutorial blackmail threat to coerce a plea, and the prosecutor delivered on his threat.

Hayes appealed to every court imaginable on the theory of “vindictive prosecution” with the prosecutorial blackmail as the underlying premise. Effectively, the argument was if overly harsh charging and punishment is the penalty for a defendant exercising his right to trial, then such constitutes prosecutorial vindictiveness and degrades, if not guts, the defendant’s constitutionally protected right to trial.

Every appellate court along the way declined Hayes’ appeal until the 6th Circuit. The 6th, however, came up with a surprising decision, granting Hayes relief, but under a slightly different theory. The 6th held that if the prosecutor had originally charged Hayes with the habitual offender charge, and then offered to drop it if Hayes pled guilty, that would have been perfectly acceptable; but using it like a bludgeon in plea negotiations once the case was charged was impermissibly vindictive, and therefore unconstitutional.

Then, from the 6th Circuit, the case finally made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States. By that time, Hayes had long been in prison and the prison warden, Bordenkircher, was the nominal appellee in the caption of the case. The Supreme Court, distinguishing another seminal vindictive prosecution case, Blackledge v. Perry, reversed the 6th Circuit and reinstated Hayes’ life sentence.

Blackledge v. Perry is a famous case known in criminal defense circles as the “upping the ante case”. Blackledge was convicted of a misdemeanor and appealed, which in North Carolina at the time meant he would get a new trial in a higher court. The state retaliated by filing the charge as a felony in the higher court, thus “upping the ante”. The Supreme Court in Blackledge held that to Continue reading

Hailing Carmen Ortiz While Ignoring Several Amendments

Main Justice has a bizarre post suggesting that those who excoriated Carmen Ortiz for her treatment of Aaron Swartz (and Tarek Mehanna and Russ Caswell, though MJ doesn’t name them by name) are now hailing her aggressiveness.

“The criticism lately has been that they’ve overcharged some people and been overly harsh,” Peter Elkann, a Boston defense attorney, said in a recent interview with Reuters. Elkann went on to observe that “no one is going to accuse any prosecutor of making too big a deal out of this case.”

That would be a safe statement, considering that the April 15 bombing killed 3 people and wounded more than 280 others, many of whom lost legs, as it left blood on the street and horrified and infuriated millions of Americans.

Ahem.

Maybe Main Justice doesn’t read this blog, which has twice noted the needless prosecutorial irregularity of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s interrogation.

But I would hope that a site covering legal inside baseball has heard of a guy named Erwin Chemerinsky, who seems just as troubled by DOJ’s refusal to comply with Dzhokhar’s reported request for a lawyer as bmaz and I?

It has become increasingly evident that the Justice Department violated the constitutional rights of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He apparently was questioned for hours without being given hisMiranda warnings, and the interrogation continued even after he explicitly requested an attorney. It is disturbing that the Justice Department would risk its criminal prosecution by ignoring such basic rules and even more disturbing for what this says as to its view of the Constitution.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Carmen Ortiz made the decision to refuse Dzhokhar a lawyer through 16 hours of interrogation alone. I’m quite certain she did that because that’s the policy — generally and specifically — Obama’s DOJ wants to pursue.

But that’s true of her over-aggressive pursuit of the war on drugs, the war on hackers, and the war on Muslims, too, the wars she was fighting when she took down Aaron Swartz and Tarek Mehanna (and tried to take down Russ Caswell). The other abusive decisions she made all reflect the policy choices of the Obama Administration.

But denying someone his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights is completely consistent with what we’ve seen Carmen Ortiz do in the past. And while Main Justice appears unphased by it, some of the same people who have noted her prosecutorial aggression in the past are noting it continues here.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: The Big Issue Is Not Miranda, It’s Presentment

Particularly given Lindsey Graham’s persistent tweeting yesterday that “the last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights,” there was a lot of discussion in the moments after Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured last night about whether he would be read his rights.

At first, there were reports he would be. But then DOJ announced he would not be read Miranda immediately; they would invoke the public safety exception to question him.

“The suspect is en route to the hospital for immediate treatment,” the official tells TPM’s Sahil Kapur. “But we plan to invoke the public safety exception to Miranda in order to question the suspect extensively about other potential explosive devices or accomplices and to gain critical intelligence.”

As of about 40 minutes ago, he had still not been read his rights.

Now, thus far, I’m actually not that worked up about Miranda rights (though I may get there soon). As Orin Kerr explains, the public safety exception is a legally recognized law, and Miranda itself only limits what can be admitted as testimony against Dzhokhar in his trial (I’m betting he’ll plead guilty in any case). The government appears to have so much evidence against him in any case, any confession he makes will likely not be necessary to convict him.

Mind you, as Charlie Savage reported two years ago, the government has been institutionalizing longer delays before they give Miranda warnings, most notably with people they (or foreign proxies) interrogate overseas first, followed by a clean team Mirandized interrogation. And as the reference to “gain[ing] critical intelligence” above suggests, the Obama Administration is stretching the intent of pre-Miranda interrogations to include more substantive interrogation (update: Emily Bazelon also made this point).

But here in the US, the delays on Miranda warnings aren’t that long. The best–quite similar–example is the 2009 UndieBomber, who was interviewed for about 50 minutes under a public safety exception when he was captured. That entire interrogation was deemed admissible and in fact formed a significant part of the opening arguments in his trial (which didn’t get much further than opening arguments before he plead guilty). So the UndieBomber’s case is one reason the Administration is confident they could question Dzhokhar without Mirandizing him at first (though the length of time has gotten far longer than used with the UndieBomber).

There’s a precedent from the UndieBomber I find more troubling though. The judge in that case also allowed the use of UndieBomber’s statements from the hospital after he had been given a fair amount of sedation. While there was a dispute about how much he got and what kind of effect that might have had, conversations he had with a nurse were also used in the opening arguments of the trial. The two issues together — a suspect interviewed without a lawyer after he’s been given serious drugs, both of which will be apply to Dzhokhar, as well — is troubling on legal, humanitarian, and practical grounds. The High-Value Interrogation Group had already been brought in last night, which suggests he may well be asked questions while in precarious medical state.

But the big issue, in my opinion, is presentment, whether he is brought before a judge within 48 hours. In addition to stretching Miranda, the government has also been holding and interrogating suspects for periods — up to two weeks for American citizens and far longer for non-citizens — before they see a judge. Not only does this postpone the time when they will be given a lawyer whether they ask or not (because judges are going to assign one), but it gives the government an uninterrupted period of time to use soft coercion to get testimony and other kinds of cooperation.

In my opinion, two of the most troubling cases like this, both involving naturalized citizens accused of terrorism, are Faisal Shahzad and Manssor Arbabsiar.

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John Cornyn Asks Eric Holder if Aaron Swartz Prosecuted because of FOIA Requests

John Cornyn just sent a letter to Eric Holder asking a series of questions about the Aaron Swartz prosecution. (h/t Julian Sanchez) Many of them are utterly appropriate coming from a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee: why Carmen Ortiz said the prosecution was “appropriate,” whether DOJ’s prior investigations, plural, of Swartz had had an influence on their conduct, why Ortiz filed the superseding indictment. Kudos to Cornyn for conducting oversight, as intended.

But here’s a question I didn’t expect, the second of seven questions.

Second, was the prosecution of Mr. Swartz in any way retaliation for his exercise of his rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act? If so, I recommend that you refer the matter immediately to the Inspector General.

It’s one thing to ask whether Swartz was targeted–and he appears to have been–for his advocacy on Open Access and Internet freedom.

But to ask whether this was retaliation for his use of FOIA? As far as I know, only Jason Leopold and I have even looked at his FOIAs in relation to his prosecution, and only for insight onto how he responded to it.

OK, But Can We Also Fire Lanny Breuer?

I’ve lost count of how many White House petitions are seeking some kind of vengeance for the harsh treatment of Aaron Swartz. Fire Carmen Ortiz. Fire Stephen Heymann. Pardon Swartz. Commute John Kiriakou’s sentence.

One of the most ethical suggestions I’ve seen (and I’m not even sure if there is a White House petition for it) is to fix the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. [Update: Thanks to Saul Tannenbaum, here it is.]

The government should never have thrown the book at Aaron for accessing MIT’s network and downloading scholarly research. However, some extremely problematic elements of the law made it possible. We can trace some of those issues to the U.S. criminal justice system as an institution, and I suspect others will write about that in the coming days. But Aaron’s tragedy also shines a spotlight on a couple of profound flaws of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in particular and gives us an opportunity to think about how to address them.

I didn’t know Aaron personally, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would seek individualized solutions to systemic problems. And one of the problems with the system that destroyed him is a law that badly criminalizes actions that don’t present much harm.

Moreover, as Corey Robin argues in this post, asking Obama to take action to absolve the actions of his own government defeats the point.

Asking the state to pardon Swartz doubly empowers and exonerates the state. It cedes to the state the power to declare who is righteous and who is wrong (and thereby obscures the fact that it is the state that is the wrongful actor in this case). The petitioning language to Obama only adds to this. The statement depicts Obama as somehow the good father who stands above the fray—much like how the Tsar was depicted in the petition of the Russian workers who marched with Father Gapon on the Winter Palace in 1905 and were summarily slaughtered.

Pardoning Swartz also would allow the government, effectively, to pardon itself.

These petitions seem to serve the purpose of pretending that Swartz’ treatment was abnormal.

It was not.

Not only has Obama’s Administration treated all those who liberate information without his government’s sanction as dangerous criminals, but his DOJ has been ruthless against just about everyone who is not a Wall Street Executive.

Jesslyn Radack–who knows how aggressively Obama’s DOJ has targeted those who free information as well as anyone–discusses the legal futility of trying to go after Stephen Heymann. But she also notes that the real remedy to prevent more people from experiencing what Swartz did is to start fixing DOJ.

What might be more realistic is for citizens to demand that the Senate Judiciary Committee exercise meaningful oversight over the out-of-control Justice Department, which has waged an unprecedented, unaccountable, brutal war on whistleblowers and hackers, and to create something akin to the Church Committee to investigate the improper monitoring and targeting of hackers, whistleblowers, Occupy participants, journalists, and a numerous other groups of non-violent “offenders” who’ve done nothing to harm anyone or the country, and have been acting purely in the public interest.

It would be a good start (though SJC Chairman Patrick Leahy has been lax in examining any Obama Administrations abuses).

But there is one action Obama could take today that would both address some of the problems with his dysfunctional DOJ and attest he means to change things systematically: Fire DOJ’s Criminal Division head, Lanny Breuer.

Lanny Breuer is not the only reason Obama’s DOJ has been so aggressive (though he has been instrumental in ensuring it ignores bank crimes). There are far more senior and far less senior people who have fostered DOJ’s overreach. But Breuer runs this system. Moreover, as the head of this system of prosecutorial overreach, he has actually explicitly rewarded abuse.

If we want to fix the injustice that was done to Aaron Swartz, we need to fix the aspects of the system that rewarded such behavior. We need to fix the law that empowered the prosecutors gunning for him. We need to put some breaks on DOJ’s power. And we should start by getting rid of the guy who has fostered this culture of abuse for the last four years.

Two Days Before MIT and Cambridge Cops Arrested Aaron Swartz, Secret Service Took Over the Investigation

The public story of Aaron Swartz’ now-tragic two year fight with the Federal government usually starts with his July 19, 2011 arrest.

But that’s not when he was first arrested for accessing a closet at MIT in which he had a netbook downloading huge quantities of scholarly journals. He was first arrested on January 6, 2011 by MIT and Cambrige, MA cops.

According to a suppression motion in his case, however two days before Aaron was arrested, the Secret Service took over the investigation.

On the morning of January 4, 2011, at approximately 8:00 am, MIT personnel located the netbook being used for the downloads and decided to leave it in place and institute a packet capture of the network traffic to and from the netbook.4 Timeline at 6. This was accomplished using the laptop of Dave Newman, MIT Senior Network Engineer, which was connected to the netbook and intercepted the communications coming to and from it. Id. Later that day, beginning at 11:00 am, the Secret Service assumed control of the investigation. [my emphasis]

In fact, in one of the most recent developments in discovery in Aaron’s case, the government belatedly turned over an email showing Secret Service agent Michael Pickett offering to take possession of the hardware seized from Aaron “anytime after it has been processed for prints or whenever you [Assistant US Attorney Stephen Heymann] feel it is appropriate.” Another newly disclosed document shows the Pickett accompanied the local cops as they moved the hardware they had seized from Aaron around.

According to the Secret Service, they get involved in investigations with:

  • Significant economic or community impact
  • Participation of organized criminal groups involving multiple districts or transnational organizations
  • Use of schemes involving new technology

Downloading scholarly articles is none of those things.

A lot of people are justifiably furious with US Attorney Carmen Ortiz and AUSA Heymann’s conduct on this case.

But the involvement of the Secret Service just as it evolved from a local breaking and entry case into the excessive charges ultimately charged makes it clear that this was a nationally directed effort to take down Swartz.

MIT’s President Rafael Reif has expressed sadness about Aaron’s death and promised an investigation into the university’s treatment of Aaron. I want to know whether MIT–which is dependent on federal grants for much of its funding–brought in the Secret Service.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @tparsi: Former Mexican president Zedillo on #irantalksvienna: Long-suffering Iranian people deserve the relief from sanctions http://t.…
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bmaz @GreggJLevine You are back on the good side of the country?
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bmaz Hahahahaha local CBS news doing report on how shaky Joe Arpaio's immigration lawyer, Larry Klayman, is b/c of molestation complaint in OK.
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bmaz @kgosztola Yep, think that is right. Although he should never be certified as LEO again for refusing to do duty to file shooting report.
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bmaz @leepacchia Dude.
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bmaz @arcsine @WyzeChef @LisaBloom No, there will be a transcript/minutes of the grand jury. Hard to see a cognizable misconduct case though.
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bmaz @walterwkatz @mherlhy0816 @ComradeArthur Better be a pretty stiff pull necessary then, right?
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bmaz @BarkmanLawyer @JoshMBlackman @TPM No shit. Jeebus.
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bmaz @JoshMBlackman @TPM Is he in Colorado smoking weed or just a blithering idiot?
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bmaz RT @AntonioFrench: Post-Dispatch reports the two were arrested for fraudulent gun purchases at a store, not bombs as CBS reported http://t.…
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