Ross Ulbricht was arrested three years ago for his alleged role as the operator of the Silk Road. Last week, his appeals process kicked off. Ulbricht’s legal team made their arguments to a three panel judge on why he did not receive a fair trial.
The longstanding argument from Ross Ulbricht supporters has hinged on the corruption cases for two of the federal agents: Shaun Bridges and Carl Mark Force. Both agents have since been convicted of corruption stemming from the Silk Road case. Force and Bridges have been convicted of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars each from the Silk Road. It was also revealed that they sold information on the investigation to the head of the Silk Road.
The defense was prevented from mentioning these improprieties to the jury. Ulbricht’s defense says that prevented him from receiving a fair trial. They also argued that the two agents could have tampered with evidence but were prevented from calling experts to tell the jury that was a possibility. At the appeal hearing, the judges seemed less than impressed by the argument.
“Is there any actual evidence that has been developed that they did interfere — or even had the capacity to interfere — with the evidence?”
The defense pointed out that the agents had administrative privileges and multiple hidden accounts. They said that the computer Ulbricht was using when he was arrested may have been compromised. But the defense admitted that there is no direct evidence that the agents tampered with Ulbricht’s computer. The defense argued that the deal DPR could have been tipped off by the corrupt agents. They then could have set up Ross Ulbricht as the fall man. Bridges set up Curtis Green as a fall man for money he stole from the site. Bridges would later offer to kill Green for Dread Pirate Roberts. That conversation would later be used to deny Ulbricht bail and was mentioned during his sentencing, despite Ross Ulbricht never being charged with any murder-for-hire crimes.
Not only was the defense prevented from mentioning the corrupt agents to the jury, the defense was also not informed about Bridges at all and only had information on Force. This would seemingly go against the defenses right to Exculpatory Evidence, that is the defense’s legal right to evidence that may put the defendant’s guilt in doubt or may otherwise be favorable for their defense.
So much of the government’s case depends on the evidence seized from Ulbricht’s laptop at the time of his arrest. The defense argues that Bridges and Force may have compromised that evidence and Ulbricht did not receive a fair trial because they were prevented from mentioning that. They were also prevented from calling expert witnesses who could have made that argument. The judge panel did not seem to go along with that characterization.
“Did [the jury] need an expert to tell them that a computer can be hacked?” asked a judge.
The defense argued that the jury needed to be told that this laptop in particular was at risk of being hacked, but then quickly moved onto issues with the sentencing.
Ulbricht received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. That sentencing goes beyond what is usually received for non-violent drug offenders and even for convicted murderers. The judge mentioned the five murder-for-hire cases that Ulbricht was accused of at one point. The government admits no murders took place and Ulbricht was never charged with a crime. Nevertheless, it seems to be a point the government is continuing to use against Ulbricht, just as it was used against him in his trial.
Typically, unproven crimes are not used to convict someone of other crimes. Yet the judge continued to point to the alleged conversation between Bridges and Ulbricht.
The defense mentioned that a murder for hire charge that isn’t carried out has a maximum sentence of only 10 years. That argument was shot down by the judge who pointed out that the narcotics charges Ross Ulbricht was found guilty of do include maximum sentences of life in prison.
The prosecution argued that the evidence is overwhelming and that the defense hasn’t challenged most of it. She argued that the evidence came from multiple sources and does not rely on the corrupt agents.
There was one argument from the defense that did seem to resonate however. During sentencing, families of people who overdosed on heroin allegedly from the Silk Road testified against Ulbricht. The defense argued that this was unfair because drug dealers are not typically responsible for every user’s death that may or may not come from their drugs and there was no medical autopsy that proved they died as a result of drugs from the Silk Road.
The judge asked the prosecution “Doesn’t that put an extraordinary thumb on the scale that shouldn’t be here[?]” during the prosecution’s oral arguments.
There is no date set on when the court has to rule on if Ulbricht’s appeal, but we will keep InsideBitcoin readers up to date.
Lyn Ulbricht, the mother of Ross Ulbricht, was recently on LTB’s Tatiana show. They posted the unedited audio from the argument, which was used in the reporting of this article. Zooko Wilcox’s ZCash has recently promised a recurring donation to Ulbricht’s defense, and there is a live Ross-A-Thon online event and fundraiser taking place on December 4th.
You can donate to the FreeRoss campaign at this Bitcoin address 1Ross5Np5doy4ajF9iGXzgKaC2Q3Pwwxv or by using the QR code below.