Ross Ulbricht, the Silk Road founder, was sentenced to life in prison on this day four years ago for establishing and operating the illegal marketplace. Since his incarceration many people have discovered Ross’s story and, more importantly, the extreme harshness of his sentence. The Free Ross movement, set up by his mother Lyn in 2015, seems to attract a bigger following with each year that passes, potentially because as time has passed the vilification in the press has fallen away and the truth behind the sentencing is bubbling to the surface. On the fourth anniversary of his sentencing, we look at the key reasons why Ulbricht’s family continue to appeal his sentence and why they feel he was unfairly treated.
Ulbricht was convicted on seven charges including drug trafficking, criminal enterprise, computer hacking, money laundering, and aiding and abetting the distribution of drugs over the internet. These convictions should have seen him face a sentence of 30 years to life, especially as he was a first-time non-violent offender. However, the judge handed him five sentences, one for 20 years, one for 15 years, one for five, and two for life, totaling two life sentences plus 40 years, grossly above the guidelines for such convictions. Ulbricht’s supporters point to the leniency afforded to other Silk Road associates as evidence that he was unfairly treated, as well as the fact that he was never convicted of a violent act, yet he received a far harsher sentence than many who commit the worst kinds of violence.
— ?OBYSTH (@Deontarchist) May 25, 2019
Murder for Hire
One of the biggest perceived injustices in Ulbricht’s case is the murder for hire charges. The assertion was that Ulbricht ordered, or thought he was ordering, the murder of a blackmailer, and that murder for hire was a service available on the site. These charges did not form part of the prosecution’s case in the trial, and were eventually dropped in July 2018, but the judge used them as a basis for her sentencing. In the words of the Free Ross Ulbricht website:
The false murder-for-hire allegations used to deny Ross bail and smear him in the media were never part of Ross’s charges at trial, and therefore the jury did not rule on them. Yet at sentencing, the judge relied on these uncharged, unproven allegations to justify her draconian, disproportionate sentence. These false allegations were eventually dismissed with prejudice years later, meaning that Ross is, in part, serving a double life sentence + 40 years based on now-dismissed allegations.
No Victims and Overdose Allegations
Extraordinarily, no victim of Ulbricht’s actions was ever named at trial, yet he still received far harsher sentences than those who were found guilty of selling drugs directly to customers on the platform. During the sentencing hearing however, the judge relied on unsubstantiated and unproven allegations of deaths associated with overdoses allegedly connected to Silk Road. Like the murder for hire allegations, these were never prosecuted, charged, or proven, and were based on what Ulbricht’s appeal called an “entirely subjective, undefined and unprecedented standard”, yet they too figured in the judge’s considerations for sentencing.
There are other factors in the case which you can read about here, including alleged fourth and sixth amendment violations, but so far all of Ross’s appeals have been rejected. He currently resides in the United States Penitentiary, Tucson, Arizona, a high security prison, alongside murderers, pedophiles, and terrorists. The Free Ross campaign is still attempting to get clemency for Ross Ulbricht, with a petition currently sitting at over 168,400 signatures.