Ross Ulbricht Convicted of Operating Silk Road
Not even a month after it began, the trial of Ross Ulbricht, alleged to be the "Dread Pirate Roberts" who operated the underground website Silk Road, is over.
The verdict is in: After just three hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Ulbricht on all seven charges today, which included trafficking drugs over the Internet, running a continuing criminal enterprise, and several helpings of conspiracy.
Defense: Someone Else Did It
After telling the judge Monday that he wouldn't testify in his own defense, Ulbricht basically brought this one down to a standard "the prosecution didn't meet its burden of proof" defense.
The defense theory of the case -- which didn't seem to be a winner from the start -- was to admit that he founded Silk Road (something that he had never admitted before), but then to claim that someone else was the figure known only as Dread Pirate Roberts who continued to operate the site. That "someone" was supposedly Mark Karpeles, founder of the Mt. Gox bitcoin exchange.
It didn't help, however, that when federal agents nabbed Ulbricht at a public library in San Francisco in 2013, his computer was open to a Silk Road administration page. And the prosecution was ultimately able to link Ulbricht to Silk Road through his personal journals and bitcoin wallet, The Guardian reported, as well as chat logs that chronicled Silk Road's operation -- all of which were found on his laptop. (The defense response to all this evidence was to suggest, in closing arguments, that someone planted it there.)
Ulbricht's chancy defense might make sense, given his history of not-so-bright ideas, the not-so-brightest of which was trusting an Internet stranger enough to ask him to orchestrate the murder of Silk Road's former accountant, whom Ulbricht thought had absconded with some of Silk Road's money. As it happens, that Internet stranger turned out to be an undercover federal agent. Whoops. Ulbricht is also the defendant in a totally separate trial for that murder-for-hire, according to The Guardian.
Spare Me Your Think-Pieces
Does this mean the Internet is over? That the Feds are going to take all our cool toys? Does this conviction mean anything for the larger future of digital freedom?
The correct question is the last one, and the answer is "no." There's no question that Silk Road was anything other than a black market. Ulbricht's conviction doesn't mean that freedom of expression is doomed, or that the government is going to invade your news feed. It just reinforces what we've known all along: You can't sell illegal drugs and weapons on the Internet and expect to get away with it.
Ulbricht faces a minimum of 30 years in prison and a maximum of life. Wired reports that his lawyers plan to appeal.
- Chasing The Dread Pirate Roberts (NPR's Planet Money)
- Read the Transcript of Silk Road's Boss Ordering 5 Assassinations (Wired)
- FBI Says It Really Doesn't Need Warrants to Use Stingray Device (FindLaw's Technologist)
- Court Makes Obvious Ruling: Cops Can Use Fake Social Media Accounts (FindLaw's Technologist)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.