The United States Supreme Court denied to hear the appeal of Ross Ulbricht, convicted of multiple crimes related to operating the infamous darknet marketplace site, Silk Road. While it is unclear if the case was simply skipped and denied on the spot, or it was heard and rejected, no public record has been made available, nor any opinions of the judges.
Ulbricht was apprehended in October 2013 at the Glen Park Branch Library in San Francisco. Amid his trial, prosecutors argued that all conversations between Ulbricht and undercover FBI agents exposed him as the darknet moniker Dread Pirate Roberts. The evidence gathered from Ulbricht’s laptop included these chat logs, other diary entries as well as spreadsheets relating to Silk Road financial information between the years 2011 and 2013.
Ulbricht’s lawyer insisted that he was not the person investigators were trying to find. He additionally argued that Ulbricht developed Silk Road as a business model and test, and not some evil darknet marketplace. Moreover, he gave the site to someone else when it turned out to be extremely chaotic and dangerous. His legal representative alleged that the genuine Dread Pirate Roberts was still in existence and that Ulbricht was a scapegoat.
The court was not persuaded with the lawyer’s assertion. Ulbricht was convicted of drug trafficking, operating a criminal venture, computer hacking, money laundering, and even attempted murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Ulbricht’s legal representatives afterwards filed an appeal to the state courts which was previously declined in 2017.
Ulbricht endeavored to file his case before the High Court on December 2017, insisting that they had violated his 4th and 6th amendment rights. The Silk Road boss said amid the investigation and his conviction, the law enforcement officers had gathered information about the website traffic without warrants. Furthermore, the judge proceeding over the case enforced a sentence for a crime Ulbricht was never convicted of, that is attempted murder in hiring an assassin online.
Using the landmark case Carpenter v. United States as a precedence, the defense was arguing 4th amendment violations against Ulbricht. The decision convinced a considerable number of supporters that Ulbricht stood a chance to have the highest court in America to hear out his appeal.
However, the court ruled against him suggesting neither his 4th or 6th amendment rights were violated, and nothing more was said of this. In order for Ulbricht to appeal again, his defense must present arguments unrelated to the 4th and 6th amendment violations now.
For the last two years, Ulbricht’s mother Lyn has been a vigorous crusader for her son, fighting tooth and nail each day to set him free. According to an interview with Lyn Ulbricht after the denial by the Supreme Court to reconsider the case, she said the following:
“Ross has been incarcerated in a maximum-security jail, which is the place the Bureau of Prisons puts its most brutal offenders. He’s a non-violent man; however, he’s there because they put individuals with a life sentence in these places, regardless of whether [their wrongdoings are] vicious or not and there was a series of stabbing in the prison last week.”
She explained why even Americans who may have no specific sensitivity for her or her child personally ought to be discouraged. The Court’s refusal to reexamine his case is also a blow to privacy rights activists and protection seekers. While the Carpenter v United States decision confirms that the law enforcement must obtain a warrant to investigate the details of cell phone records, Ulbricht’s appeal cannot be based on this alone. With this refusal of Ulbricht’s lawyer and its arguments, the Court keeps on allowing the law enforcement to subtly track our web browsing history and activity with no warrant or reasonable justification if it deems the pursuit of this information in the favor of America’s national security. Doubtlessly it is in the spirit of the Fourth Amendment that acquiring and taking advantage of this data should require a warrant. The present order puts all our privacy in danger and reinforces the surveillance states.