U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest told Ross Ulbricht late last week that he has until the government rests its case Monday to decide if he wants to testify in his own defense, The Wall Street Journal reported today. Ulbricht is accused of operating Silk Road, the online drug marketplace.
The judge’s ultimatum struck some legal experts as unusual, according to The Wall Street Journal. Experts interviewed by the newspaper said defendants are typically allowed to wait until the end of a trial before deciding to testify or not. On Thursday, Ulbricht’s lawyer, Joshua Dratel, objected to the judge’s timing and said his client has a right to determine after the defense witnesses testify before deciding if he should testify.
The judge said the court is entitled to ensure an orderly trial and that Ulbricht makes a decision in a reasonable time.
Testifying in his own defense is a key decision, the report noted. It could help Ulbricht build sympathy with the jury, but it could also expose him to difficult questions from prosecutors about the evidence presented in the case.
One former federal prosecutor interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said the pressure on the defendant is enormous following the testimony of a cooperative witness. A friend of Ulbricht testified against him to avoid prison for his own involvement in Silk Road. The former prosecutor said by telling his side of the story, Ulbricht could inject reasonable doubt into the minds of jurors.
The most serious criminal charges revolve around Ulbricht allegedly using an alternate identity as Silk Road’s leader, under the handle “Dread Pirate Roberts,” according to reports. The 30-year old stands accused of multiple crimes, including drug trafficking, narcotics trafficking, conspiracy to launder money, and computer hacking conspiracy charges.
Silk Road was in operation from February of 2011 to October of 2013, when Ulbricht was arrested. His bitcoin was seized by the FBI. The FBI recovered more than 140k bitcoins from him, worth over $28 million at the time, according to reports.