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‘A Reasonable Chance’ Ross Ulbricht’s Case is Supreme Court Bound: Legal Expert

Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:03 PM
Josiah Wilmoth
Last Updated March 4, 2021 5:03 PM

One of the foremost experts on the operations of the US Supreme Court has identified Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht’s case as one that raises questions that have “a reasonable chance of being granted” a hearing by the Court “in an appropriate case.”

Tom Goldstein, the co-founder of respected law blog SCOTUSblog , selected Ulbricht v. United States as Jan. 23’s “petition of the day.” This designation indicates that Goldstein, a former litigator who also taught Supreme Court litigation at Harvard Law School, believes that the case covers legal matters that have a “reasonable chance” of being granted a hearing by the Court if presented in the right vehicle.

Ulbricht, who operated the infamous darknet marketplace Silk Road under the pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts,” is currently serving life in prison without parole for a variety of crimes related to his operation of the Silk Road, including money laundering and drug trafficking.

The sentence was unexpectedly harsh — the trial judge stated that it was meant to send a message to other darknet marketplace operators — and Ulbricht’s advocates maintain  that the investigation and trial were “rife with corruption, abuse, and violations.” Nevertheless, a Second Circuit appellate court rejected Ulbricht’s appeal last year.

Ulbricht has now petitioned  (PDF) to have his case taken up by the Supreme Court, arguing that his Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights were violated during the investigation and sentencing.

Specifically, the petition maintains that government agents violated Ulbricht’s Fourth Amendment right by collecting his internet traffic information without a warrant or probable cause.

Additionally, the petition alleges that the judge violated his Sixth Amendment rights by basing Ulbricht’s “otherwise unreasonable sentence” partly on allegations that he had attempted to pay a hitman to commit five murders. These murders were never carried out, and the government did not charge Ulbricht with attempting to commission them. Consequently, Ulbricht’s petition argues that these uncharged, unproven allegations should not have been allowed to factor into his sentencing.

By naming Ulbricht v. United States a “petition of the day,” Goldstein indicated that he believes the Supreme Court would consider hearing a case that raises these sorts of constitutional questions.

Importantly, however, the designation does not necessarily indicate that SCOTUSblog believes the case itself is “an appropriate vehicle to decide the question, which the site says is a “critical consideration in determining whether certiorari” — a writ by which a higher court reviews the decision of a lower court — “will be granted.”

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