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Silk Road: Double Life and Forty Years For a Website

Violent criminals such as rapists, murderers, and pedophiles get much lighter sentences than someone who ran a website with no victims involved.

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By Nate Galt | United States

Ross William Ulbricht, also known as Dread Pirate Roberts, has been the subject of controversy. Ulbricht was the head of the notorious dark web drug-trading market known as Silk Road. He became more interested in liberty and economic theory in college, reading the works of prominent libertarians such as Ron Paul and Samuel E. Konkin III. He decided to set up a market which relied on voluntary exchange in 2011. His ultimate goal was a marketplace, or “Agora,” where victimless goods could be bought and sold. 

Ulbricht’s new website, Silk Road, soon became the leading dark-net drug market. However, other goods were sold there, such as art, books, tee shirts, and tickets to events. The most commonly sold items were user amounts of cannabis. In just over two years, he had amassed a 28 million dollar net worth through all of the commission he had received. Interestingly, all transactions were done in Bitcoin, a new, unregulated cryptocurrency that had sprung up. For every purchase, “Dread Pirate Roberts,” Ulbricht’s online persona, would receive a certain percentage of the sale. He would attempt to calculate his net worth in several spreadsheets that were used as evidence in federal court. 

Several plans were made by the F.B.I. to arrest Ulbricht and to retrieve damning evidence to convict him. On October 1st, 2013, federal agents followed him into a San Francisco public library near his house. After a brief distraction, one of them seized his computer while another agent handcuffed him. All files on the computer were copied to a flash drive. 

Later, the case of U.S.A. v. Ulbricht went to court. Federal Judge Katherine B. Forrest wanted to make “an example” out of him in order to send a message to all deep web drug traffickers. She mentioned several murder-for-hire allegations that Ulbricht was accused of. His defense attorney said that these claims were not true and were just meant to sway the jury into convicting him.

In 2018, a Maryland judge dismissed the murder-for-hire allegations against Ulbricht. However, the jury had already associated the case with murder. Some jurors may have thought that Ulbricht had blood on his hands and was a kingpin who would stop at nothing to keep his drug ring operational, comparable with the likes of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Pablo Escobar. These fictitious accusations may have played a role in the jury’s decision. Judge Forrest did not mention that several F.B.I. agents violated protocol and that there was a debate as to whether Ulbricht’s constitutional rights had been infringed upon.

In federal court in New York City, Judge Forrest sentenced Ross Ulbricht to two life sentences without the possibility of parole plus forty years, the maximum possible penalty. He was a first-time, nonviolent offender. This draconian sentence was imposed on Ulbricht for hosting a site where drugs, primarily cannabis products, were sold.

Criminals whose actions have victims who did not consent to their actions, such as rapists, murderers, and pedophiles, get much lighter sentences. This clear disparity between the two sentences is extremely unjust. Furthermore, victimless crimes should not be considered crimes to begin with. Laws regulating what consenting adults partake in or consume are merely arbitrary dictates and attempts to legislate lawmakers’ versions of morality.

Every transaction on Silk Road had two consenting parties involved. A man who hosted a site with only voluntary transactions should not be punished harder than someone who violently killed or took advantage of another person. All laws to regulate victimless crimes such as drugs, gambling, and prostitution have failed miserably in their attempt to enforce morality. The only moral thing to do in this case would be for the president to pardon Ross Ulbricht for a crime that does not deserve jail time.


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