US Court of Appeals affirms life imprisonment sentence for Silk Road’s Ross Ulbricht

Maria Nikolova

Ulbricht, also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, earned millions of dollars in profits from the sale of illegal drugs on Silk Road, where Bitcoin was usually used as a currency.

The 2nd United States Circuit Court of Appeals today published its ruling on a bid by Ross William Ulbricht, the mastermind of the notorious online marketplace Silk Road, to appeal his life imprisonment sentence.

In its decision, a panel of three circuit judges affirmed the sentence issued by the district court in 2015.

Ross William Ulbricht had appealed from a judgment of conviction and sentence to life imprisonment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, for drug trafficking and other crimes associated with the creation and operation of Silk Road. He argued that:

  • the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
  • the district court committed several errors that deprived him of his right to a fair trial, and incorrectly denied his motion for a new trial;
  • his life sentence is both procedurally and substantively unreasonable.

The Court of Appeals affirmed Ulbricht’s conviction and sentence in all respects.

In February 2015, a jury convicted Ulbricht also known as Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR). Silk Road operated using the Tor Network and the marketplace users mainly bought and sold drugs, false identification documents, and computer hacking software. Transactions on Silk Road used Bitcoins, favoured because of the anonymity it grants.

According to the government, between 2011 and 2013, Silk Road was used by thousands of vendors to sell about $183 million worth of illegal drugs, along with other goods and services. Ulbricht, acting as DPR, generated millions of dollars in profits from the commissions collected by Silk Road on purchases.

The government has also presented evidence that DPR commissioned the murders of five people to protect Silk Road’s anonymity, although there is no evidence that any of the murders actually occurred. The court was also presented with evidence about deaths stemming from use of drugs purchased via Silk Road.

In October 2013, the government arrested Ulbricht, seized the Silk Road servers, and shut down the site.

The life sentence is particularly severe, the circuit panel notes, because, as in all federal cases, Ulbricht will never be eligible for parole.

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