Imagine listening to a judge sentence you to two life sentences and forty years as she cites crimes for which you weren’t tried. Meanwhile, your mom looks on, listening to the judge steal you away from her. Your future is gone because your government needed to stop the movement of which you are a part, and they use crimes other people committed to do so.
This is how Ross Ulbricht’s case concluded when he was sentenced to prison after creating the Silk Road, which allowed people to exchange goods and services for Bitcoin. No violent or coercive services were allowed, such as murder, child porn, exchange of stolen property or other violent services. So, how did Ross end up sentenced to double life and forty years for his “crimes?”
Exchange of Drugs
Drugs were exchanged on the Silk Road by individuals seeking to buy and sell drugs. There were a lot of drugs sold on the Silk Road that were illicit drugs. However, it is possible to buy plants that only serve the purpose of producing poison on Amazon. Craigslist allows individuals to buy and sell services, and has in the past been used for people to buy and sell illegal goods and services.
The charges brought against Ross were not for him selling or buying drugs, but for facilitating the transaction through his platform. If that is the case, why would Amazon and Craigslist not be held accountable for allowing harmful products or violent services to be bought and sold on their platform?
The same line of logic does not apply in physical drug sales as well. If someone deals drugs out of their apartment, the apartment complex is not held accountable for that individual’s actions, rather the dealer receives an extra charge called “Maintaining a Common Nuisance,” for simply selling from a set location. This is a law put in place to supposedly protect the neighbors of dealers from the violence and other problems surrounding the exchange of illicit drugs. But this law places the responsibility on the dealer, rather than the owner of the building (in some cases the dealer) in order to blame the dealer for their actions. This should serve as a reference for any judge in making decisions of whom should be held accountable in Ross’ case: the actual dealers, or Ross the “building owner.”
Violations of Rights
“This case is the birth of law as applied to our digital future. Watch it as a spectator at your peril.”
– Scott H. Greenfield, criminal defense attorney
The first violation of rights occurred as the authorities searched endlessly and aimlessly through Ross’ computer. The application of the 4th amendment (illegal search and seizures) states that it is not enough to as to search a file cabinet, but must search for a certain file and only that file. The same logic should be applied to computers. It is a compromise on all cases of unreasonable search and seizures to allow the police to search for nothing specific and as they please through Ross’ hard drive. Any evidence that was not outlined in the warrant should not have been allowed to be shown to the jury, but it was.
The judge, Katherine Forrest, cited crimes of murder for higher that were supposedly transacted on the Silk Road as the reason for Ross’ sentence. However, there was no evidence of these crimes, and they were never even brought up as charges for that reason. The jury never deliberated on these accusations, thus being sentenced for them is unconstitutional and a violation of Ross’ rights.
Furthermore, his trial by jury was inhibited as defense cross examination was hampered by the judge and defense witnesses were kept off the stand. Also, two of the key investigators in Ross’ case were investigated for corruption in regards to this case, extorting and stealing over a million dollars in funds during the case. The withholding of evidence and hampering of defense obfuscated the case and destroyed any possibility of a fair trial.
Incongruity of Sentences
This picture was pulled from FreeRoss.org and is used to demonstrate the incongruity of sentencing that occurred in Ross’ case.
As you can see, the sentences are completely arbitrary and inconsistent. The largest drug dealers received fairly normal drug sentences, while admins who helped Ross facilitate the operations of the Silk Road received less than two years of prison. Also, Benthall, organizer of Silk Road 2.0 was released, while his 2nd-in-command was sentenced to 8 years.
The sentencing was subjective due to judicial digression and the ideological leanings of the people who were convicted. Just another drug dealer is far less threatening to the status quo as the creator of an anonymous, peer-to-peer platform for exchange.
Where is Ross now?
Ross is now in a maximum security prison in Colorado, a state that has since legalized the plant that he is supposedly sentenced to two life sentences due to his part in facilitating its sale. He is a web designer in a prison with gangsters, murderers and rapists. He was convicted of no violent crimes, but sent to live with the most violent people among us. The guards of the prison claim he doesn’t belong there, and it seems impossible to disagree with their assessment.
Instead of giving in, Ross has decided to continue learning and finding new ways to appeal his case. He corresponds with his mom through letters and visits, but is allowed no access to computers. People write him letters, and he does his best to respond as much as he can. But, he is in a position that he does not deserve, one that his actions throughout his life prove to be unjust.
Ross’ case does not only show the injustice he was dealt, but threatens the rights of every individual. Courts operate off precedent, which means that Ross’ case can be referenced by future courts to allow authorities to not specify their searches on warrants to peruse digital assets, unproven allegations can be held against defendants during sentencing and malfeasance by authorities can be covered up by courts to protect their agenda.
If you don’t have empathy for Ross, then denounce this miscarriage of justice in self-preservation. Imagine going through this yourself or with your child. Take action to bring this massive injustice to light. Follow Ross’ case with the following channels:
Pictures and quotes pulled from freeross.org.
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