The Supreme Court announced on June 28, 2018, that it will not reconsider the conviction or life sentence of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged mastermind behind the darknet site Silk Road. At press time, no reason has been provided for the Court’s decision.
Ulbricht was first arrested in October 2013 at the Glen Park Branch Library in San Francisco. During his trial, prosecutors stated that, at the time, he was speaking online with an undercover FBI agent while running the site through an open laptop under the name “Dread Pirate Roberts.” Among the evidence collected from Ulbricht’s computer were chat logs, journal entries and spreadsheets pertaining to Silk Road financial data between the years 2011 and 2013.
Ulbricht’s defense team insisted that he was not the man prosecutors were looking for. They argued that Ulbricht had created Silk Road as an “economic experiment,” but that he handed the website off to another person when it became “too chaotic.” They claimed the real Dread Pirate Roberts was still out there and that Ulbricht was simply a “fall guy.”
The jury remained unconvinced by these remarks. Ulbricht was found guilty on counts of trafficking drugs on the internet, running a criminal enterprise, narcotics-trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking and money laundering, and was sentenced to life in prison. Ulbricht’s legal team later filed an appeal of the sentence, which was formally denied in 2017.
Ulbricht attempted to bring his case before the Supreme Court last December, alleging that his fourth and sixth amendment rights had been violated. Ulbricht said that during the investigation and his sentencing, law enforcement agents had collected internet traffic information without warrants, and that the judge presiding over the case had imposed an “unreasonable sentence” due to reports that Ulbricht had tried to hire a hitman — a crime for which he was never convicted or charged with.
Ulbricht’s attempts to bring his case to the Supreme Court had been met with support from several organizations including the Gun Owners of America, the National Lawyers Guild and the Reason Foundation.
Upon hearing the recent case Carpenter v. United States — which involved location data stored and obtained by cell phone providers — the Supreme Court ruled that the fourth amendment does offer individuals “legitimate expectation of privacy” over their personal data, even if they voluntarily provide it to third parties. The ruling convinced many of Ulbricht’s supporters that the Court would be willing to at least consider his side of the story, though it appears these hopes have been dashed, and Ulbricht’s life sentence will stand.
The Twitter account @free_ross immediately posted its reaction to the decision, saying, “SCOTUS denied #RossUlbricht cert petition this morning after holding it pending Carpenter. This is a NO on internet privacy and Ross’s case. Devastating. #freeross.”