Ross Ulbricht, the incarcerated founder of the dark web marketplace Silk Road has lost his latest submission for a fresh trial.
As the situation holds, in January 2019 the existing old evidence failed to warrant Ulbricht a new trial, sending his appeal efforts into futility.
According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, this aspect happens to be specific to Ulbricht’s bid for an extension of time to yield evidence that would potentially set him free.
Ulbricht, who operated using the moniker Dread Pirate Roberts, was given life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in 2015.
This sentence followed a conviction detailing several counts of criminal activity, including drug conspiracy, money laundering and drug trafficking.
Additionally, his Silk Road platform was seen by the federal government as an enabler of international darknet-supported crime that hit several regions across the world.
From an Idea to a Multi-Million Dollar Establishment
The U.S. government provided estimates about data theft, weapons trade and drug business that garnered $185 million in Bitcoin between the years 2011 to 2013.
A 2009 email intimated that Ulbricht’s Silk Road developed from the idea of establishing “an online untraceable storefront” where his customers could purchase advertised goods and services anonymously.
Ulbricht would later be charged and sentenced in 2015. He filed an appeal that year, asking the courts to consider a fresh trial that would direct his path to freedom.
A Series of Bids
This is not the first time that Ulbricht has taken his shot at possible freedom.
A 2016 court file [PDF] addressed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit argued that Ulbricht received an unfair trial.
This stems from the premise that a deliberate omission of key evidence altered the fairness of the case.
Ulbricht’s lawyers stated that the Silk Road founder had been framed as the individual behind the “Dread Pirate Roberts” label.
In line with the court filing, Ulbricht’s defense team was not accorded a conducive environment to argue critical points—including a close examination about the integrity of evidence presented by former Drug Enforcement Agency agent Carl Force.
Additional points pointed to an alternative theory that Mt Gox boss Mark Karpeles was the actual man behind the “Dread Pirate Roberts” persona.
Further, the validity of communication avenues employed in the investigation was upheld as a bone of contention.
At this point, Ulbricht’s lawyers lobbied for a new trial that would involve a reconsideration of the prisoner’s sentence by a different judge—without success.
Come 2017, Ulbricht tried his luck once again with the courts.
He requested for a fresh trial on the basis that the district court erred by shooting down his defense team’s motion to subdue evidence that was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
This point built up on the argument that the eventual direction of the case advised an unfair trial and an unreasonable life sentence—save for the fact that the investigation was allegedly corrupt from the beginning.
In February 2018, Ulbricht further filed a motion to extend time to file for a new trial based on “newly discovered evidence.” To this effect, he provided justifications for the request.
Importantly, Ulbricht sought pen/trap data that had not been presented before trial, which, according to a recently published book, claimed that FBI agents used pen/trap data to compute Ulbricht’s location within his place of residence.
The district court rejected the bid for an extension, maintaining that the evidence Ulbricht purposed to obtain would not qualify as “new evidence” by law.
This meant that any subsequent motions raised pursuant to such a claim would be useless. On the same month, Ulbricht failed to obtain a reconsideration for the decision which moved him to file an appeal.
Looking Back: The Course of Justice
Citing American Kingpin, the book written about Ulbricht’s criminal career, fresh information about old evidence cannot succeed in changing the validity of initial evidence.
The court argued that Ulbricht was well aware of the pen/trap data—and that’s a deal breaker.
The Courts of Appeals also realized that nothing in Ulbricht’s prior defense team’s packet of information could qualify as “new evidence.”
The district court therefore cannot be held culpable for an abuse of its discretion in showing that Ulbricht failed to express good cause for an extension on his terms.
The Courts of Appeals has judged all of Ulbricht’s appeals as insufficient for a lawful reversal. For the foregoing arguments, directives of the district court were affirmed.
Moving Forward: A Bleak Future
The New York-based Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has resolved to uphold the original sentence leveled against Ulbricht.
This decision, in its obviousness, potentially serves to send a stern warning to other persons that may be considering to create the same type of dark web-hosted illicit enterprises.
Dread Pirate Roberts may not have been the typical drug baron of the 21st century, but the severity of his sentence and subsequent legal blockades to his attempts at getting a new trial underscores just how seriously the judicial system perceived Silk Road.
As potential future expansion of darknet marketplaces stands to be a threat to law enforcement, closing Silk Road was a top priority for federal officials in Ulbricht’s case—as was ensuring that future operators learn from the outcome of the trial.
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