The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has denied Ross Ulbricht’s appeal of a life sentence for his role as the leader of the Silk Road online drug marketplace, according to a court filing. Circuit judges did not agree with Ulbricht’s claims that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence, that the court denied him a right to a fair trial and denied his motion for a new trial, and that his sentence is procedurally and substantially unreasonable.
Silk Road, seized by the FBI in 2013, was considered the most sophisticated marketplace on the Internet. Attracting people because of the anonymity it provided its users, it sold fakes IDs, drugs, computer hacking tools, and other illegal items to people across the world.
Due to Silk Road’s concealment, it took undercover investigators years before they were able to discover that Ulbricht was the ringleader of Silk Road. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2015 for seven criminal charges with no chance of parole. He was also ordered to forfeit around $183 million.
Ulbricht filed for a retrial, claiming the government did not follow due process.
The circuit judges wrote that the district court stated that general deterrence played an important role in the case since Silk Road is without serious precedent and generated a high amount of public interest. General deterrence, however, was only one element in the district court’s analysis.
In response to Ulbricht’s claim that life sentences are usually reserved for egregious violent crimes, making the sentence unreasonable, the judges wrote that the district court’s finding was not unreasonable. Each case has to be considered on its own facts, the judges wrote, which in this case included five attempted murders for hire.
The judges noted that the attempted murders for hire separate the case from that of ordinary drug dealers, and support the district court’s finding that Ulbricht was exceptionally destructive. The fact that he distanced himself from the violence by using a computer to order murders is not a mitigating argument.
The judges called the cruelty Ulbricht showed in his negotiations for the murders unnerving.
They also wrote that Ulbricht’s contention that the district court ignored letters sent on his behalf was false.
Appeals court upholds sentence
The judges also rejected Ulbricht’s claim that the district court ignored his contention that Silk Road reduced the effects of drug crimes. The district court took full measure of Ulbricht’s claims that Silk Road reduced overdoses and violence associated with drug trafficking, but found them unconvincing.
The judges disagreed with Ulbricht’s claim that he was more similar to someone running a crack house than a drug kingpin since he created an online marketplace that others, not he, used to sell drugs. This argument, the judges wrote, understates the extent of Silk Road’s extensive presence, conducting $183 million in illegal drug sales.
The judges noted that the district court considered Ulbricht’s offense, his personal characteristics and the crimes’ context. The sentence, given the facts of the case, was within the range of permissible decisions.
A life sentence is the second severest penalty the justice system can impose, the judges wrote. In this case, the district court gave the sentence the extensive consideration required, reviewing sentencing submissions and weighing Ulbricht’s arguments.
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