Eventually his activist efforts got him in trouble. A lot of trouble. Felony trouble. According to those close to Swartz, they believe it's what eventually led to his suicide. The legal pressure was so high that he couldn't stand it. One of his lawyers even relayed that to the judge.
Specifically, Swartz was arrested on charges of lifting documents from a database and for computer fraud. Later, he was charged with stealing millions of documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also had been investigated two years earlier by the FBI for performing a similar act, hacking online documents from Public Access to Court Electronic Records, known as PACER, which charges to access the documents. The FBI later charged that $1.5 million worth of documents were downloaded from Swartz's hacks.
In the end, he was charged with 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and two counts of wire fraud. The maximum punishment of a fine of $1 million and 35 years' prison time weighed heavily on Swartz.
While many thought that he would be able to negotiate a plea that required very little or no jail time, the prosecutors didn't seem to budge. They wanted to take it to Swartz.
His family regarded his death as "The product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. An exceptionally harsh array of charges for an alleged crime that had no victims."The fact is that we lost a very talented, very insightful individual at a very young age, far too young to lose a bright visionary like Swartz. Still, it was clear that Swartz struggled with painful thoughts, even before his legal problems set it. -- Written by Bret Kenwell in New York. Follow @traderboy23 This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.