Earlier this week, I opined the idea of an eventual dismissal of the government’s case against Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht due to shaky evidence and tactics by authorities. A bunch of screenshots and forum conversations with unknown persons, claimed to be Ulbricht, is pretty flimsy evidence from where I sit.
At the criminal trial in New York , FBI agent Tom Kiernan was on the stand, and an item called “Government Exhibit 200” was added to the proceedings. This item happened to be a Samsung 700z laptop in plastic wrap. Kiernan told prosecutor, Timothy Howard, that this was indeed the computer he and two other FBI agents conspired to steal from Ross Ulbricht in October 2013, just before Silk Road was shut down by authorities. This laptop was so important to their case, that they stole it from the public library desk he was sitting at in San Francisco’s Glen Park section. Ulbricht was still a free man on that day, just being followed by the three FBI agents, who were ready to get more evidence against him, by any means necessary. This is how they conspired to steal the intended target.
Of the three-person team, a male and female agent were going to pose as two people at the library in a large quarrel, close enough to distract Ulbricht. Upon distracting Ulbricht, the third agent would grab the open computer and gave it to Kiernan, an FBI, computer specialist. Without allowing it to go idle, and thus become encrypted, he took photographs, went through the browser history, and ultimately handed it off to another agent, who then “imaged” the hard drive.
Evidenced discovered by an illegal search or seizure is inadmissible in court under what is known as the “exclusionary rule”. This means that even if the murder weapon was found and can conclusively establish that a suspect killed someone if it was obtained through an illegal search and seizure, then it is generally not admissible.
There is also a related rule of law known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree”. This rule states that evidence obtained through illegally obtained searches should also be excluded. This means that if the police illegally search a house and find a map of the locations of the suspect’s drug stashes, the map, and the evidence at the locations, is also inadmissible because the search was illegal.
Law and order in the United States are becoming sketchy at best, as far as the ability of the authorities to ethically meter out justice without becoming criminals themselves. Maybe what I know about the law fits into a thimble, but a gang of federal agents faking a fight, and stealing the laptop of someone who is innocent until proven guilty doesn’t sound like justice to me. How the thieves can turn around and submit this stolen merchandise as evidence in a court of law sounds criminal in nature to me.
How is this different than “identity theft” or and other similar act? Because someone with a badge did it, its ok? When the authorities become the criminals themselves, is justice at all possible?
Image provided by CNet & Ugly Duckling House.
How about you? Should this laptop and any “evidence” within, be legally used against Ross Ulbricht or any person in a court of law? Share above and comment below.