If you don’t know who Ross Ulbricht is, then you have probably heard about the infamous Silk Road, a dark web market that was a sort of eBay for illegal items and services.
The man behind Silk Road is Ross Ulbricht. He was arrested back in 2013 when the market was shut down by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Ulbricht was later convicted for charges including money laundering, conspiracy to traffic drugs and computer hacking, all activities the court alleged he conducted while running the Silk Road.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the chance of parole.
While most people may agree that Ulbricht is guilty of the charges, it is the harsh punishment that is often debated and criticized. Life imprisonment without the chance of parole is a sentencing for the most serious crimes.
Money laundering, conspiracy to sell drugs and computer hacking are generally not considered the most heinous of crimes by any means.
This is the reason why Ulbricht appealed his life sentencing to the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, though, he lost the appeal in May of 2017.
But now Ulbricht and his lawyers are back with another appeal.
Kannon Shanmugam, Ulbricht’s lead attorney on the case, filed a writ of certiorari for the sentencing and conviction involved in the Silk Road case.
Shanmugam is taking a stand on two major points. At the center of the case is the Fourth Amendment and Sixth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment regards providing citizens their right to privacy.
This usually means that the government or authorities are not allowed to conduct unreasonable searches, property seizures, wiretaps or monitoring on private property.
A critical part of the Silk Road investigation relied on monitoring Ulbricht’s internet activity.
This is the part that becomes tricky. Monitoring internet activity is not exactly like wire-tapping.
On the other hand, you can also make a case that your Internet activity is private.
Nonetheless, the FBI never acquired a search warrant, which is needed for doing wiretaps or private abode monitoring.
What the authorities had acquired was an Election Communications Privacy Act which, according to Shanmugam, is not an official and legal “go” signal for wiretaps.
If the Supreme Court favors the side of Shanmugam, then it’s highly possible that Ulbricht’s conviction can quickly lead to a case of mistrial.
Shanmugam’s other question falls under the Sixth Amendment, which primarily focuses on the rights of the accused. The main goal of Shanmugam’s strategy is to question the nature of the sentencing.
If you take a closer look at how the case was handled, it seems that the judge was in a hurry to put the nail in the coffin.
Or, you could also say that the sentencing court is more focused on making Ulbricht as an example of why the public should stay away from drug trading, computer hacking and money laundering, rather than serving him a fair sentencing.
Shanmugam asserts that sentencing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole to a first-time offender of a non-heinous crime is something that is unheard of. According to Shanmugam, the only part of the story that may justify the sentencing is with the alleged commissioning of murders.
Silk Road investigators have claimed that Ulbricht paid someone to have some someone killed.
However, he was never charged with such act. Even then, the authorities never did any kind of investigation to discover if the murder actually occurred.
Without this allegation on the table, a sentencing of life imprisonment without the chance of parole is simply unjustified.
U.S. Judge Katherine Forrest served Ulbricht his sentencing back in 2015.
After that, he motioned for an appeal on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the earlier conviction and sentencing.
This also meant that the way is paved for a possible Supreme Court review, and that’s what Shanmugam is hoping for.
Ulbricht is considered as a dangerous criminal for some, and yet there are those who are also on the other side of the fence.
For these people, they see Ulbricht as a pioneer and a champion for personal freedom.
Philosophically, Ulbricht considered the Silk Road as a social experiment on free markets and personal liberty.
This is the main reason why he created the dark web market in the first place.
Ulbricht’s family, friends and supporters have rallied together public advocacy and funding campaigns for his legal expenses through the Free RossUlbricht movement.
Presently, Ulbricht is serving his sentence at the Florence High United States Penitentiary in Colorado.