Journalist Barrett Brown Bears Full Restitution Brunt

After a guilty plea that when presented to the judge assigned him 63 months of time spent in a Federal prison and ordered nearly a million dollars in restitution, Barrett Brown's effort to have the restitution reduced has been denied by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Brown was ordered to pay restitution to Stratfor and others based on the full calculated damages for the crime of reporting on a crime where the actors responsible for committing the criminal act have not been found, convicted, or otherwise sanctioned.

Brown's motion sought to have the burden of restitution assigned to himself personally reduced from the full figure near a million dollars to a sum between ten thousand to thirty thousand United States Dollars to reflect the fact that if a crime was indeed committed his only actual role in the affair was as an observer. He sought merely to have the damages if there were indeed a crime apportioned to reflect only his responsibility as portion of the whole.

The original restitution sum was determined by prosecutors and the aggrieved parties and with Barrett Brown's guilty plea it was finally possible for them to unload the entire burden of restitution  on a party who acknowledged some measure of guilt. The nature of the guilt as well as the admitted scope of Brown's actions relative to the damaging total behavior was irrelevant in assigning restitution because Brown was willing to accept some measure of guilt while no other guilt had been admitted or assigned before the courts. Brown was the only person anything could be offloaded on so all was offloaded onto him.

Though nearly all reality based accounts of Barrett Brown's case assign to Brown no positive action on his part beside his choice to report on this case first and his doing so in a way which reflected the unflattering reality of Stratfor and others based upon the documents in front of him. Those documents finding their way to him however, as best as the court can determine, merely happened through the passive act of having operated a venue in which the actual perpetrators of the potentially criminal act left the documents. For large service providers such passive action that which presented the documents in front of Brown would have been likely been considered protected under "safe harbor" through the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The guilty plea though prevents presenting arguments to the court and so Brown must suffer.

If there is any lesson at all in this affair, it is that prosecutors and courts will assign damages wherever they can, and a guilty plea in the absence of any other assignment of guilt can burden one party with the sins of every party, including the more responsible parties.

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