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New Appeal Brief Argues: Ulbricht’s Life Sentence Should be Overturned

The defense team of Ross Ulbricht, the man who started and ran the original Silk Road, filed a new reply brief with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, appealing both his conviction and sentencing of life in prison without parole.

Joshua Dratel, Ulbricht’s lawyer, argues that a consistent theme throughout Ulbricht’s trial was the lack of proper evidence consideration and that “convictions should be reversed, and a new trial ordered, and/or that certain evidence be suppressed, and/or that the case be remanded for re-sentencing before a different district judge.”

We have written about some of the corruption involved in the government’s investigation and prosecution of Ulbricht and just recently his mother spoke regarding the same issue.

Two of the agents involved with Ulbricht’s investigation, Carl Force of the DEA and Shaun Bridges of the Secret Service, have since been arrested for crimes related to their investigation. Bridges is a more widely known name – likely because money won’t stop disappearing and his  name is always associated with the missing funds.

In the brief notes, Dratel writes that the government tried to separate Carl Force from the investigation and prosecution in an attempt to prevent the public from seeing the potential evidence contamination. Yet, “The United States Marshals’ Intake Form for Ulbricht, completed upon his arrest October 2, 2013, lists under the “Arrested or Received Information” section, as the only law enforcement officer, “Carl Force”… He points out that they, themselves, admit Force was involved in the case beyond the initial discovery.

The lawyer thinks relevant information has risen from the cases against Force and Bridges, information that would change the course of Ulbricht’s trial. One such example would be Bridges skills: “while at the Secret Service [Bridges] specialized in, among other things, use of the Dark Net and identity theft.” and that “(Bridges “committed crimes over the course of many months (if not years). . . . [and] “was an extremely calculated effort, designed to avoid detection for as long as possible, ironically using the very skills (e.g., computer skills) that he learned on the job and at the public’s expense.”

Bridges signed into the Silk Road marketplace with administrative credentials and stole millions of USD in bitcoins. Some of the thefts resulted in Ulbricht responding to bitcoin theft in a manner that would impact the case against him. Bridges “took deliberate affirmative steps to deflect blame from himself onto others, regardless of potential consequences for them.” Specifically, he made it look as if “Flush,” a high-ranking member of Silk Road administration, had stolen the funds. The government then says Ulbricht attempted to have Flush killed for the theft. Dratel points out that this would never have happened if Bridges had not stolen Silk Road funds, yet the judge has continually ignored such contamination.

The brief points out that the Silk Road case was not the only one with Bridge’s evidence contamination and many of those cases had to be shut down.”The number of cases that Mr. Bridges contaminated, not just existing criminal cases, but also investigations across the country that his conduct has let to have to be shut down, is truly staggering.”

Even the logistics of the investigation are called into question in the brief. “The Pen Register and Trap and Trace Order [in Ulbricht’s case] were unlawful because they required a warrant and/or failed to adhere to statutory limitations.” He writes that “Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses do not provide content” since “Once an investigator has an IP address, the very same content of that website that the subject of the surveillance observed is equally available” unlike with a telephone pen register that would not reveal the content of a call.

This brief points to a very recent case of United States v. Lambis in which “a District Court suppressed evidence obtained via a cell-site simulator (also called a “Stingray” device) that prompts cell phones to provide their location, finding that acquisition of such data requires a warrant.” The Court in Lambis declared…”the Government may not turn a citizen’s cell phone into a tracking device.” Yet the government did this with Ulbricht’s laptop, Dratel claims.

Some of the other Silk Road arrests were mentioned in the brief – arrests that resulted in sentences as low as five years. This was something Ulbricht’s mother touched on in her interview. “Judge Forrest’s sentence seemed based on some factors for which Ulbricht was not charged, including alleged deaths caused by drugs bought on Silk Road or alleged but unadjudicated ’murders for hire.’”

To conclude:

“A long sentence, such as a life sentence, based solely on judicial factfinding regarding “uncharged conduct… seems a dubious infringement of the rights to due process and to a jury trial” is directly applicable here, as the District Court reached factual conclusions as to uncharged conduct, including murder for hire allegations and alleged overdose deaths, and used these facts to justify the life sentence it imposed.:

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