Ross Ulbricht's Appeal

The Silk Road case


Last year Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison essentially for operating the Silk Road website, where people often used bitcoin to buy illegal drugs. In January, he filed an appeal. His lawyer, Joshua Dratel, maintains that Ulbricht's defense was unjustly hobbled because he was unable to present evidence about corruption charges against two federal agents investigating him.

The defense needed to raise reasonable doubt that Ulbricht was the pseudonymous "Dread Pirate Roberts" running the site at the time of the investigation and arrest. Dratel thinks the revelation that those investigators were busy trying to steal bitcoin would have raised doubts about the digital evidence against Ulbricht that they introduced.

The appeal also argues that the defense was unjustly prevented from cross-examining one witness over a theory of an alternative Dread Pirate Roberts, or from presenting witnesses who would clarify or complicate government witness statements on technicalities that Dratel thinks could have affected the jury's decision. It further suggests that some aspects of the government's searches of Ulbricht's digital life exceeded the statutory authority under which they were carried out and should have required a warrant.

On top of those arguments, Dratel believes Ulbricht's life sentence was "substantively unreasonable," since it considered deaths supposedly linked to drugs purchased on Silk Road and failed to adequately consider the site's potential effects in reducing harm to drug users.