By Indri Schaelicke | United States
A petition to grant clemency to Ross Ulbricht has reached over 43,000 Signatures on Change.org. Reaching the petition’s goal of 50,000 signatures could be a key step towards a pardon from Trump himself. But just who is Ross Ulbricht, and what is his story?
Ross Ulbricht is a 34 year old Austin, Texas native. Also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, he is currently serving a double life sentence for non-violent crimes relating to his owning and operating of a dark web marketplace known as the Silk Road. The website offered users anonymity by using the software Tor and making transactions in Bitcoin. Many used it for drug purchases and other illicit activities. Its anonymous nature allowed users to evade law enforcement.
Ross Ulbricht was apprehended at San Francisco Public Library on October 1st, 2013 in San Francisco. He was tried by a grand jury and found guilty on May 29th, 2015.
Ulbricht was charged with money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic narcotics, and procuring murder. The charge of procuring murder was removed from the indictment, but the evidence was considered in Ulbricht’s sentencing. The judge presiding over the case, Judge Katherine Forrest, said she would give Ross “the severest sentence possible.” She did just that, sentencing him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Much of the outrage over the sentencing of Ross Ulbricht comes from the perceived corruption and prosecutorial misconduct in the case. The official website of Ross Ulbricht’s family claims several abuses and violations occurred during the investigation and trial, including:
- Fourth Amendment privacy violations– warrantless seizures of internet traffic
- Unprosecuted, unproven allegations of murder-for-hire, which factored into the sentencing
- Two corrupt federal investigators (who have been convicted and are currently imprisoned) and more evidence hidden from the jury
- Investigation of alternate perpetrator derailed by “rogue” federal agents
- Defense cross-examination repeatedly blocked
- Defense witnesses prevented from testifying
- Proof of evidence tampering
- Proof of multiple people behind the DPR accounts
- Parallel construction and other lies used to hide NSA involvement
If true, these allegations would raise serious questions about how fair the trial was.
Further outrage comes at the fact that the FBI has not revealed how they were able to penetrate the Tor software that Ulbricht used. This has led to suspicion and many conspiracy theories. While the FBI has made several claims about how they were able to break through the Tor barrier, several experts have debunked their explanations.
The sentencing of Ross Ulbricht sets a great precedent in that government may find the desire for privacy akin with an intent to commit crimes. During the trial, the prosecutors argued exactly that point. If courts rely upon this precedent, it could lead to the swift and large-scale erosion of liberty.
Libertarian’s biggest beef with this ruling is that Ross Ulbricht was punished for illegal activities perpetrated by others. They believe that he was simply hosting an internet website and a platform for anonymous transactions. Ulbricht’s supporters maintain that he should not be held accountable for the illicit transactions done by others.
Support for Ross Ulbricht
Ulbricht’s case has received large scale support from the National Lawyers Guild, American Black Cross, Reason Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, and Downsize DC Foundation. All filed amicus curiae briefs in support of Ross’s case before people petitioned the Supreme Court to hear it.
The Libertarian Party, which has expressed support for Ross Ulbricht, is also giving the case attention. Following calls to “Free Ross Ulbricht” at their national convention, the LP urged members to sign the petition on Change.org.
Moreover, John McAfee come out in support of Ulbricht, penning a blog article in which he discusses at length the need for privacy.
Libertarian groups Young Americans for Liberty and the Cato Institute have also come out in support of Ulbricht.
On 20 July 2018, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Robert K. Hur, dismissed the murder-for-hire charges, seeing as Ulbricht’s petition to have his case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States was denied.
Ulbricht also recently became active on Twitter on July 19, 2018. With the help of his mom and friends, he is able to connect with his supporters from inside his prison cell.
Most recently, however, a petition on Change.org started by Ross Ulbricht’s mother, which seeks a presidential pardon for her son, has reached over 43,000 signatures. If it continues to have such widespread support, the Trump administration will be likely to look more closely. If you would like to help Ross in this fight, please sign the petition, which can be found here.
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