(Originally published in May of 2018.)
I’ve been in and around the US justice system for most of my life. I’ve always had relatives and friends who were lawyers, and I worked as an expert witness for more than 30 years. And however much I may disregard the state as an institution, I hold great regard for the common law, upon which the US justice system was based.
So, when I tell you that Ross Ulbricht’s prosecution shocked me, please understand that this is not the judgment of an antagonist or a neophyte.
Just the Facts
I’m obviously passionate about this subject, and I think you’ll shortly see why. But I also want to present the facts clearly. And so I’m going to use blunt and honest wording, but I’ll also give you links, so you can assure yourselves that my statements rest on more than passion. (Some of these links may no longer work.)
Here are the things you should know:
- The FBI’s explanation of how it found the Silk Road server were lies. What they really did was almost certainly parallel construction, known in honest speech as “lying to the court.”
- The case was clearly politically driven. (See here and here.)
- A mere two months before Ulbricht’s arrest, the lead DHS investigator swore under oath that Mark Karpeles (of Mt. Gox infamy) was the “Dread Pirate Roberts” who ran the Silk Road darknet site.
- Two federal agents investigating the case pled guilty to corruption related to it and are now in jail.
- The government spied on Ulbricht’s internet traffic (along with others who used the same router) without showing probable cause and without a warrant.
- The judge altered the trial transcript. The only link I have for this is from Lyn Ulbricht (Ross’s mom), but I was sitting in the same courtroom and heard the same thing. The judge said (and this is close to verbatim), “Last Thursday when agent Der-Yeghiayan was testifying under cross examination, I thought the prosecutors could have objected more. And so, over the weekend, I edited the trial transcript and removed all the testimony that could have been objected to.” The judge then went on for a long time, trying to explain why this was okay, even if it didn’t seem like it.
- The prosecution’s forensic evidence was below amateur level. The tools used were bad choices, and when the metadata (the times and dates you see when you open File Manager) are exactly the same for every file, it’s inescapably clear that they’ve been altered. To then submit them as evidence is laughable… or would be if so much wasn’t at stake.
- Ulbricht was neither indicted nor convicted for some highly publicized murder-for-hire charges, but he was sentenced based upon them.
- Ulbricht’s sentence was beyond extreme: Two life sentences plus 40 years… for a nonviolent, first-time offender. And one who is seemingly loved by everyone who knows him.
There are more problems with this case, but I’ll stop my list here.
A petition now stands before the Supreme Court, arguing two constitutional points:
- Whether the warrantless seizure of an individual’s internet data without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment.
- Whether the Sixth Amendment permits judges to base an otherwise unreasonable sentence upon uncharged crimes.
Five amicus briefs, signed by 20 organizations, have been filed in support of the Supreme Court petition.
So, will the supremes pull off a stick-save? I certainly hope so. But even if they do, I’ll never look at justice in America the same way. What if Ulbricht’s mother hadn’t risen, heroically, to his defense? And what if the crypto community hadn’t donated substantially?
When I was a schoolboy, we were taught about Soviet show trials, where the verdict was decided beforehand by apparatchiks and a trial was staged to legitimize it. I never expected to see such a thing in America… but I did.