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May 27, 2015

Feds seeking LWOP sentence for Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht

As reported in this Wired piece, "headlined "Silk Road Prosecutors Ask to 'Send a Message' in Ulbright Sentencing," the federal government has now asked for the toughest possible sentence for the defendant convicted of creating the on-line drug market known as Silk Road. Here is part of the story:

Ross Ulbricht's billion-dollar black market Silk Road was in many ways the first of its kind, blending encryption and online drug sales in a business model that plenty of other online drug lords have since sought to emulate. So as Ulbricht’s sentencing for running that massive narcotics-selling experiment approaches, the Department of Justice wants to make an example of Ulbricht’s punishment, too.

Ahead of Ulbricht’s sentencing Friday, prosecutors in his case have sent the judge a 16-page letter asking that Ulbricht be given the maximum possible punishment of life in prison. And one of the reasons for that harsh sentence, the Department of Justice attorneys argue, is to “send a clear message” to anyone who would follow in Ulbricht’s footsteps and create the next Dark Web drug market.

“Ulbricht’s conviction is the first of its kind, and his sentencing is being closely watched,” the prosecution’s letter reads. “The Court thus has an opportunity to send a clear message to anyone tempted to follow his example that the operation of these illegal enterprises comes with severe consequences.”

That deterrence argument is just one in a series of calls for a life sentence made by the prosecution in its letter. At other points, it lists the details of six deaths it argues were caused by drug overdoses facilitated by the Silk Road’s anything-goes drug sales. It rebuts the positive arguments about Ulbricht’s character made by the defense, as well as the over 100 letters from friends, family, and even fellow inmates about Ulbricht’s character, pointing to his cold-blooded recording of his attempted murders of enemies in the journal found on his laptop. And it counters the argument made in the defense’s pre-sentencing letter to the judge: That the Silk Road actually reduced harm for drug users with a rating and review system that assured drugs’ quality and purity....

Indeed, several iterations of the Silk Road have come and gone in the two short years since it went offline. Those copycat sites have included the Silk Road 2, which was shut down in law enforcement’s dark web purge last fall, and Evolution, a giant black market for drugs, guns, and stolen financial information whose leaders absconded with users’ funds in March. Today the black market site Agora reigns as the largest black market still online, with tens of thousands more products listed for sale than the Silk Road ever offered.

In its letter, the Silk Road prosecution points to the difficulty of tracking down and punishing the creators of those markets as one more reason that Ulbricht should be imprisoned for life: If anonymous market administrators can’t be easily caught, perhaps they can be deterred from a life of Dark Web crime by their fear of Ulbricht’s fate. “Although the Government has achieved some successes in combating these successor dark markets, they continue to pose investigative challenges for law enforcement,” reads the letter. “To the extent that would-be imitators may view the risk of being caught to be low, many are still likely to be deterred if the stakes are sufficiently high.”

The government's full sentencing memorandum is available at this link.

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May 27, 2015 at 11:46 PM | Permalink


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Good opportunity to move for a mistrial. The prosecutor has just demanded a sentenced for the purpose of general deterrence.

In general deterrence, one wants to frighten strangers to the defendant, ones he has never met, who have not yet committed crime, and over whom he has no influence. It is to influence their mental state. It is unknown if they follow his sentencing, or if they will ever find out about his sentencing in Russia or China, where the government encourages people to harass the USA. If they do learn of this sentence, the system is so incompetent, there is a 10% risk of being arrested for committing a major crime, compared to the certainty of $millions to be made.

This motion violates the Fifth Amendment Procedural Process Right to a fair hearing.

Where is the defense?

In fairness, the defense did bring up the published data that he saved multiple more lives than were endangered. Good for them. This is the only mitigating factor I can support, assistance to victims during the time surrounding the crime.

Sentencing question. May one submit an argument that he put out contracts on people's assassination without a conviction or without submission to the jury, as an aggravating factor without a separate trial?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 28, 2015 4:26:36 AM

Um the gov did not ask for LWOP.

1Correction 5/27/2015: An earlier version of this story stated that prosecutors sought a life sentence for Ulbricht, when in fact they asked only for a lengthy sentence “substantially above the mandatory minimum.”

Posted by: AUSA12 | May 28, 2015 11:37:42 AM

To me he is a hero. Isn't this what we talk about when we talk about entrepreneurship, the creative class, etc etc? One man made a billion dollar business from nothing but pluck, hard work, and ingenuity. This case reminds me of Holmes comment about Rockefeller: "If the law required it I would put him in jail but if it were up to me I'd raise a statue to him."

Posted by: Daniel | May 28, 2015 12:50:38 PM

It is very interesting that with an advisory term of life, and a recommendation from the USPO for life, the Government did not explicitly also request life. It suggests that they would accept a substantial term, but something less than life, as reasonable. I'm curious to see the Court, if so inclined, sees this as an invitation to impose some kind of downward variance.

Posted by: USPO | May 28, 2015 7:06:50 PM

This is Judge Katherine Forrest we're talking about, and she's... not a lenient sentencer. I wouldn't want to be Ulbricht right now.

Posted by: azazel | May 29, 2015 3:01:23 PM

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