Silk Road

Sadly, Ross Ulbricht's Case Will Not Be Heard by the Supreme Court

Despite Carpenter upending Fourth Amendment doctrine, the Supremes leave the Silk Road founder in prison for life.


The Supreme Court announced this morning that it will not reconsider the conviction and life sentence without parole of Ross Ulbricht, convicted for various crimes associated with founding and operating the darkweb site Silk Road. The Supreme Court typically does not explain such rejections.

It's a shame they aren't required to explain themselves, because the sea change in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence the Supremes effected with last week's Carpenter decision definitely means that the ways the government used warrantless searches of Ulbricht's computer use in arresting and convicting him are far less obviously legal than the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in considering Ulbricht's appeal were required to see them by pre-Carpenter precedent.

It's not that Carpenter, which was about cellphone records and not internet data, unequivocally dictates that Ulbricht should have won on appeal had the Court considered his case. But the entire Fourth Amendment environment under which he was arrested and convicted is so different now that a thorough rethinking was definitely in order.

The Fourth Amendment wasn't the only issue the Court had an apposite opportunity to rethink with Ulbricht's case. His life sentence without parole was based on accusations he was never actually tried on—namely that he was involved in planning (uncommitted) murders for hire. That raises important Sixth Amendment questions that at least Justices Thomas and Gorsuch have shown past interest in rethinking if the right case came along.

Ulbricht's lawyer Kannon Shanmugam wrote in an earlier memo to amici in the case that for the actual crimes he was convicted on, "Ulbricht's Sentencing Guidelines range would have resulted in a recommended sentence of, at most, 30 years in prison." Despite the manifest injustice of sentencing based on crimes never proven in court, "the Court has previously declined to grant certiorari on petitions presenting this question" (of sentences based on unadjudicated accusations).

As the cert petition for Ulbricht explained, "it is hard to imagine a better example of the consequences of runaway judicial factfinding than this case. Petitioner, a young man with no criminal history, was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for drug crimes that do not ordinarily carry that sentence, based substantially on numerous factual findings made by the sentencing judge by a preponderance of the evidence."

Most reasonable people would agree judges shouldn't hand down sentences for crimes never proven in court. It's a question that, in addition to the very important Fourth Amendment implications, made Ulbricht's case one urgently requiring rethinking. Unfortunately and for reasons unknown, the Supreme Court did not agree.

Ulbricht's mother Lyn has been a tireless crusader explaining the injustices involved in the investigation and sentencing of her son. (See an interview with her in the July print issue of Reason.) In a written statement this morning, she says "This is devastating news for Ross and our family."

She goes on to explain why even Americans who might have no particular sympathy for her or her son personally should also be discouraged. The Court's declining to reconsider his case "is also a blow to privacy rights and protections. While the Carpenter decision establishes that the government must obtain a warrant to search our cell phone records, Ross's case is much more far reaching. With this denial of certiorari and its arguments, the Court continues to permit the government to secretly track our internet browsing history and activity with no warrant, oversight or probable cause. Internet activity offers up a wide range of personal and relevant information, including religious and political affiliations, sexual orientation and activity, medical information, apps, etc. Surely it is in the spirit of the Fourth Amendment that obtaining and using this information, at the least, should require a warrant. Today's order puts all our privacy in peril and bolsters the surveillance state."

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34 responses to “Sadly, Ross Ulbricht's Case Will Not Be Heard by the Supreme Court

  1. My mama always said: “If you don’t have anything to say that won’t get Reason subpoena’d, don’t say anything at all,” so… i’m’a end this comment right here.

    1. KMW is your mama?

  2. Yes we could threaten all the Supreme Court justices with woodchippering. However what would that achieve? The core problem here is the drug war. If you really want to fight, it’s easy. Just create a blog and then infiltrate your local AA/NA meeting and post what you see. You might surprise yourself. Also, it’s easy and fun!

      1. All right, is this some new meme brewed in the AM links or something? I am in the dark here.

        1. I’m trying a bit of thot begoning. Seeing if it gets rid of AddictionMyth.

    1. We’re so beyond woodchippers.

      We now need helicopters.

  3. I think Trump will be so popular at the end of his second term as President that he will pardon a bunch of people that are political landmines, like Ulbricht and Snowden.

    Trump wants to be a law and order guy but also realizes how corrupt the government is and selective in its prosecutions and punishments. Trump is also very pro-drug freedom and doesn’t even use recreational drugs.

    1. I really hope he does that. I really do.

      /turns woodchipper on.

    2. Trump wants to be a law and order guy but also realizes how corrupt the government is and selective in its prosecutions and punishments.

      It’s good that at least one person knows with absolute certainty what Donald Trump thinks.

      1. Especially since I don’t know if Trump knows.

        1. Or … if what he does can really be called “thinking.”

          1. It occurs to me that Trump’s speech is done in order for him to see what everyone else thinks about what he has to say. Then, after reading others’ opinions, Trump then clarifies what he meant. It’s a form of fact gathering, so to speak.


    3. It’s obvious he’d never pardon “drug pusher” Ulbricht. And I highly doubt he’d pardon “traitor” Snowden.

    4. If he’s going to do it, why wait that long? As soon as he’s re-elected, pardon them.

  4. It’s hardly surprising that the government isn’t interested in reconsidering a political prisoner’s case. The only way that happens is if there’s a new government.

  5. It’s a shame they aren’t required to explain themselves…

    There are only so many worms they’ll let out of any can they open.

  6. I’m still interested in the part where a couple of the investigators were engaged in crimes regarding this very case and the jury never heard about it.

    Maybe someone can explain to me why it wasn’t the jury’s business.

    1. FYTW.

      1. Pretty much, yes.

  7. Where is the fucking check on the judicial branch? Tyrants in black robes! Look what they’ve done to my personal hero Tommy G Thompson for pulling some gold out of the ocean, fucked him over to the point where he had to stiff his investors and go on the run and now that they have him in the pokey they are fining him $1000 a day until he reveals the location of his buried treasure, how is this shit legal? ommy-g-thompson-treasure-hunter-contempt-court/

    1. Tommy Thompson does not make out as a sympathetic character by libertarian standards.
      According to the article, he took $12M of investors money to find the wreck, actually found the wreck and hauled up some or all of the loot, and then started spending it without sharing it to the investors.
      When called on it, he absconded and tried to hide.
      When caught he now says he will share it, but doesn’t.
      So, what do you do with someone like that?
      Civil detention and contempt seems to be an appropriate measure.

  8. I guess that, as judges, they like that judges can pass sentences based on their feels, and not evidence. They had a chance to right a grave wrong, and they passed. Fuck them sideways.

  9. Sucks to be him, but that’s the price you’ve got to pay if you want a SCOTUS that protects fetuses and capital above all else.

  10. Asshats

    Free that man!!!

  11. A direct appeal to Trump is probably the only option left. A Netflix documentary might help his cause, but he’s cause celebre on either side.

    RU’s mother is separated from her son for LIFE. It seems hardly fair that her pain will be virtually ignored by the media, but they’ll saint migrant parents who pay human smugglers to transport them and their little kids across the desert.

    The selective morality in this country is something truly grotesque.

    1. “he’s not cause celebre”

  12. Ulbricht’s cinviction should be thrown out because of the many corrupt agents who stole millions in the process of arresting him. Trump hates the FBI so why not try for a pardon?

  13. On the ATF, there is a rather small, undistinguished animal known to sit on a convenient stump, determining which way the breeze blows, as that determines it’s actions, which way it will jump.This creature is generally known and described as “a stump jumper”, which come to think of it strikes me as an unfortunate, but all to appropriate way of describing ATF management, that is to describe them as Stump Jumpers.

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