Nearly two years ago Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to 2 life sentences plus 40 years in prison for his role in creating and operating the Silk Road online market. This sentence, and indeed the entire conviction, was appealed based on suppressed evidence and the existence of corrupt federal agents working on the investigation into Silk Road. Former Secret Service Agent Carl Mark Force & former DEA Agent Shaun Bridges each plead guilty to to money laundering and obstruction of justice; Force also plead guilty to extortion. In the appeal, Ulbricht’s attorneys used all caps to highlight some of the ways that Ross was denied a fair trial: “THE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION AND DENIED ULBRICHT HIS FIFTH AND SIXTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS, THE RIGHT TO PRESENT A DEFENSE, AND A FAIR TRIAL BY (A) PRECLUDING THE DEFENSE FROM USING AT TRIAL THE EVIDENCE RELATING TO DEA SPECIAL AGENT CARL FORCE’S CORRUPTION; (B) REFUSING TO ORDER THE GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADDITIONAL DISCOVERY AND BRADY MATERIAL REGARDING CORRUPTION; AND (C) DENYING ULBRICHT’S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL BASED ON ADDITIONAL POST-TRIAL DISCLOSURES REGARDING FORCE AND ANOTHER CORRUPT LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENT INVOLVED IN THE SILK ROAD INVESTIGATION.”
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals handed down their ruling on May 31, upholding Ulbricht’s conviction & sentence. In the 139 page decision, the judges stated, the presence of corrupt federal agents “does not necessarily affect the reliability of the government’s evidence in a particular case” even though evidence may have been fabricated by said corrupt agents. Adding that the defense “still has not shown how the agents’ corrupt behavior is exculpatory… The relevant question, on which none of Ulbricht’s arguments casts any light or raises any doubt, is whether any particular item of evidence was tainted in some way by the misconduct of Bridges or Force.”
In short, the judges said “Ulbricht hasn’t proven the evidence was tainted, therefore it wasn’t.” This contradicts one of the edicts of our system of justice, that the prosecution is supposed to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that the agents, who again were corrupt, had full access to the site and the ability to impersonate Dread Pirate Roberts (the alias of the Silk Road operator) should bring about reasonable doubt as to whether or not the evidence is legitimate. If there are reasonable doubts as to the validity of the evidence, there should likewise be reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant.
The ruling continues, “It is very possible that, at some future point, we will come to regard these policies as tragic mistakes and adopt less punitive and more effective methods of reducing the incidence and costs of drug use.” Adding, “At this point in our history, however, the democratically-elected representatives of the people have opted for a policy of prohibition, backed by severe punishment… Under the law, we cannot say that [the original judge’s] decision was substantively unreasonable.”
In other words, “even though the War on Drugs may end at some point, it’s still the law of the land; therefore, Ross Ulbricht will die in prison because he created a website.”
Ross Ulbricht is an American Hero who deserves a medal, he is not a super-villain to be punished; the real criminals in this case are the federal agents involved in the investigation, the prosecution & the judges who sentenced Ross Ulbricht to a lifetime behind bars.