Attorney Sarah Kunstler’s Complete Sentencing Argument for Jeremy Hammond


You can read more about Jeremy Hammond’s sentencing HERE

The following is Sarah Kunstler’s complete argument made to Judge Loretta Preska on behalf of Jeremy Hammond at sentencing 11/15/2013 


In December of 2012, 24,000 geophysicists gathered at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The most well-attended lecture  was about the depletion of the earth’s resources. A geophysicist name Brad Werner from the University of California walked the crowd through an advanced computer model to show how the rapid depletion of these resources was leading to the destabilization of the earth’s ability to sustain human life.


When asked what could reverse or stem this tide, Mr. Werner was largely at a loss. There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the dominant culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, and other activist groups.”


Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance. But in the history of our great nation, and in the history of human kind, there have always been moments where resistance has led to important change. The American Revolution. The Civil War. The Civil Rights Movement, and end of Apartheid in South Africa. And there have always been people who have stood up to make that change. Our founding fathers, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela.


What these people have in common is how they act in a moment of choice, when confronted with a situation in which they can rise up, often at great personal risk, and take action, or quietly sit down, and risk nothing. And in that moment of choice, if they do nothing – no one will be the wiser. But if they act, they will suffer the consequences of that action.


These actors and the actions they take are not always understood in the moment. Sometimes, the actors are viewed as criminals, their actions, as violations of the established law. Sometimes, it takes time – days, decades, a century – for the context and meaning to be properly understood. And in some cases, history, rather than vindicating them, will judge them harshly.


The development and use of surveillance technologies will be one of the defining issues of our times. The reach of these capabilities is astonishingly broad: governments can listen in on cell phone calls, use voice recognition to scan mobile networks, read emails and text messages, censor web pages, track a citizen’s every movement using GPS, and can even change email contents while en route to a recipient. They can secretly turn on webcams built into personal laptops and microphones in cell phones not being used. And all of this information can be filtered and organized on such a massive scale that it can be used to spy on every person in an entire country.


Jeremy Hammond, a gifted computer programmer, decided to use his skills to break the law. He did so out of a concern that these technologies were enabling governments and corporations to gather information on individuals and organizations without oversight or scrutiny.  He did so as an act of protest.  And as a result of his actions – and the actions of others similarly committed to open government –  the public has become increasingly aware and increasingly concerned.


There are many – like our adversaries in the United States Attorney’s office – who do not accept Jeremy Hammond’s actions as acts of  civil disobedience; many who see what he did as one dimensional, criminal and malicious. In its sentencing submission, the government argues that Jeremy Hammond “was motivated by a malicious and callous contempt for those with whom he disagreed,” and that his goal, demonstrated by statements that he made in chat rooms, “was to cause ‘mass mayhem’ by destroying the websites of entities he disliked.”  Contrary to the government’s representations, this wasn’t a malicious and unfocused act against an entity with whom Jeremy had a disagreement – it was an act of protest against the private intelligence industry and its ability to do what the United States, in theory, is prohibited from doing – targeting American citizens and other populations worldwide.


If Jeremy spent every waking hour online, hiding behind a screen, hacking into websites, it would lend credence to the government’s argument. But this is not the case. Jeremy Hammond lived an active, moral and productive off-line life as well – a life in which he was devoted to helping others – in a way that many of us imagine we would do – if only we had the time. In an age where technology and computers isolate us – where we walk around staring into tiny screens, use social media to stay in touch with friends, and send text messages rather than talk to the people in our lives, Jeremy connected with people, looked them in the eyes, and made an impact on their lives in extraordinarily positive ways.


The government discounts these efforts. In a footnote buried deep in its submission, the government argues that Jeremy’s contributions to the public good are not worthy of this court’s consideration because they are “substantially outweighed” by the harm he caused.


The government ignores the letters of support we received – 60 out of a total of 265 – from people who know Jeremy from his positive work in the communities of Chicago – people who have first-hand knowledge of the countless hours he devoted to volunteering, teaching/tutoring, creating a community space so groups could meet, organizing to close down local coal plants that were poisoning his neighbors, helping people gain skills, find jobs, and get back on their feet, opening the doors of his home to people who were hungry and in need, and inspiring others to do these same things.


These letters demonstrate a profound accomplishment and a profound commitment to humanity, far greater than any of us at the defense table can lay claim to. And under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), they are certainly worthy of the court’s consideration.


One of the most wonderful letters attached to our submission came from someone who has never met Jeremy. A father of two young people attending college in Chicago, who wrote after his children made him aware of Jeremy’s case. This man’s children were not friends of Jeremy’s either – he happened to run into them on the street, when they were moving their belongings up three flights of stairs into a new apartment. Jeremy happened by, and offered to help. Later, after his arrest, they saw his picture on the news and realized that the person who had helped them was the person who now awaits sentence in this case.


This is by no means the most significant letter in our submission. But I mention it because it highlights the kind of person he is.  Not many people would have stopped to help.  But Jeremy Hammond is the kind of person who stops everything he is doing to help another human being. A person who has made a tremendous real-world impact, and a person who feels the responsibility to make the world a better place, in big ways and small.


Jeremy Hammond broke the law. He knew that he was breaking the law, and he acted at his peril. He accepts the consequences of his actions. He does not – and we do not – minimize his actions by addressing his motivation. But his motivation matters. When Jeremy sat down at his computer and broke the law, he did so with the same set of values and principles that he applied to every aspect of his life. Nothing that Jeremy did in this case was for personal gain. Had it been otherwise, he surely would have sought to exploit the credit cards available to him – something he has never done.


In a recent statement, Sarah Harrison, the British journalist who accompanied Edward Snowden to Russia, described actors like Jeremy Hammond as the last line of defense in the fight for transparency. Ms. Harrison wrote:


In these times of secrecy and abuse of power…When whistleblowers come forward we need to fight for them, so others will be encouraged. When they are gagged, we must be their voice. When they are hunted, we must be their shield. When they are locked away, we must free them. Giving us the truth is not a crime. This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it.


The government has a one dimensional view of this case. Part of the challenge may be that Mr. Hammond’s actions are a new form of protest, using tactics that are concededly violations of our federal criminal laws for a higher purpose. But our world is changing quickly, as evidenced by the hundreds of letters of support – and thousands of people who signed on to the petitions – that we submitted to the court.


Your honor, Jeremy understands that you must sentence him today, and that you must apply the laws in force at this moment. None of us has the benefit of history, hindsight, or the changes that will not doubt take place as our thinking and our laws evolve to address the seemingly boundless use of surveillance by corporations and governments and the actions of people like Jeremy Hammond, who step forward to grasp truths that are hidden from us.


Under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), we respectfully submit, that after looking at all of the sentencing factors – Jeremy Hammond’s history and characteristics, the nature and circumstances of the offense, the need to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to provide just punishment, to afford adequate deterrence, and to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities, that a sentence of time served is sufficient but not greater than necessary to accomplish the goals of sentencing.


Thank you.