Jury Wastes No Time In Finding Ross Ulbricht Guilty On All Counts

from the going-away-for-a-long-time dept

If you've been following the Ross Ulbricht trial, this won't come as much of a surprise, but Ulbricht has been found guilty of all the charges related to creating, running and using the Silk Road dark marketplace:
  1. Distribution/Aiding and Abetting the Distribution of Narcotics
  2. Distribution/Aiding and Abetting the Distribution of Narcotics by Means of the Internet
  3. Conspiracy to Distribute Narcotics
  4. Continuing Criminal Enterprise
  5. Conspiracy to Commit or Aid and Abet Computer Hacking
  6. Conspiracy to Traffic in Fraudulent Identity Documents
  7. Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering
Sentencing will be May 15th, but it seems likely that he'll be locked up for a fairly long time. There is likely to be some sort of appeal, and some have made a valid argument that the court very much limited Ulbricht's possible defenses. Also, as with the Kevin Bollaert revenge porn conviction earlier this week, there are concerns to be raised about how this kind of ruling could be used to pin liability on other websites for activities done by users of those websites. It seems likely that some of Ulbricht's direct activities violated the law, but it still appears that some of the charges conflate his own actions with users of his site -- and so it's a concern about what kind of precedent that sets for other cases involving less controversial websites and services.

Either way, this kind of result was almost a foregone conclusion. In a criminal case, the defense almost always wins if it gets to trial. Also, even for the more nuanced legal arguments -- or Ulbricht's attorney's chosen path of trying to toss out a bunch of alternate scenarios to sow "reasonable doubt" in the jury -- the simple nature of the fact that many people used Silk Road to buy and sell illegal drugs was always going to cloud the overall case against Ulbricht.

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  • identicon
    Sean Gleeson, 4 Feb 2015 @ 3:55pm

    "In a criminal case, the defense almost always wins if it gets to trial." Really?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 3:58pm

    I like how distributing narcotics "by means of the internet" carries it's own separate charges. I also see the prosecution wasn't able to nail Mr. Ulbricht with murder-for-hire charges... "by means of the internet" of course.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 4:17pm

      Re:

      Didn't you know the Internet is lethal? Y'all should stop using it.


      Oh, me too. :-)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      uRspqF7L (profile), 4 Feb 2015 @ 7:03pm

      Re:

      and so does distribution using the mail, using the telephone system, and many other specific channels of communication. your internet isn't special and hasn't been specially targeted. have a look at the wire fraud convictions and prosecutions--to this day they dwarf internet fraud prosecutions, & nobody claims they are harming communications or "communication freedom." it's actually an effort to make the laws specific tailored to specific actions. how terrible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 8:27am

        Re: Re:

        "it's actually an effort to make the laws specific tailored to specific actions. how terrible."

        But it's targeting the wrong actions. If you're breaking the law, that law is broken no matter what communications channel was used. So prosecute for the actual crime, not for using "x" communications channel in the course of committing the crime.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Ragnarredbeard, 5 Feb 2015 @ 4:52am

      Re:

      They didn't get him for murder-for-hire because he wasn't charged with that in this trial.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 7:55am

      Re:

      I like how distributing narcotics "by means of the internet" carries it's own separate charges.

      Also "continuing criminal enterprise". That's somehow separate from each of the individual criminal acts that make up that continuing criminal enterprise.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 4:59pm

    He wasn't up on murder for hire charges, so there was no point in nailing him on that.

    The article here says there is some sort of valid complaint about how the court limited his defenses, but fails to mention that the court repeatedly asked for them to make the arguments. It was the defense attorneys who failed to do so. They failed to file the proper notice, failed to do so in a timely manner, they didn't make an ownership claim to the server in Iceland and so had no standing for a request to have that evidence tossed out (and the judge repeatedly asked for that because it seemed to be an obvious move for the defense).

    She points out repeatedly how and why she needs certain information, and that tossing it into the ring on the last day of the trial is simply not permitted.

    Her ruling in just one part is here:
    http://ia600603.us.archive.org/21/items/gov.uscourts.nysd.422824/gov.uscourts.nysd.422824.173.0 .pdf

    The defense made various tactical decisions which backfired on them later on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2015 @ 4:27am

      Re:

      And heres me thinking all that should matter is whether someones guilty or innocent ..........assuming charges are ACTUALLY illegal

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 7:57am

        Re: Re:

        And heres me thinking all that should matter is whether someones guilty or innocent .

        Juries conclude guilt or innocence based on the cases presented to them, so how well the case is developed and presented obviously matters.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 10:41am

        Re: Re:

        "And heres me thinking all that should matter is whether someones guilty or innocent"

        That is all that should matter, but the question is what process do you use to determine if someone is guilty or innocent? In the US, it's an adversarial process. There are pluses and minuses to this, and one of the minuses is that it means the actual actual outcome of a case is heavily dependent on which side has the better lawyers and which side has the most money.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 6:05pm

    Pretty despicable jurors that can convict anyone of "conspiracy".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      streetlight (profile), 4 Feb 2015 @ 6:27pm

      Re: Conspiracy in the USA

      I read an article in the Atlantic many years ago about the legality of conspiracy charges in the USA. It turns out, IIRC, that almost anyone can be convicted of conspiracy - kind of a last resort of prosecutors when they can't find evidence that someone was actually involved in a crime. It turns out that the co-conspirators don't even have to know each other or ever met.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Feb 2015 @ 11:43pm

      Re:

      Yeah, 'Conspiracy to commit...' charges shouldn't be on the books at all. Either someone committed a crime or they didn't, there should be no grey zone of 'Well they might have planned to commit a crime...', as that's getting into thought-crime territory, where simply discussing something can be a crime.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 5:20am

        Conspiracy charges

        "Yeah, 'Conspiracy to commit...' charges shouldn't be on the books at all. Either someone committed a crime or they didn't, there should be no grey zone of 'Well they might have planned to commit a crime...', as that's getting into thought-crime territory, where simply discussing something can be a crime."

        From a friend of mine, a former criminal defense attorney:

        "
        1. Conspiracy... "lets go drive out in my car and get some drugs."
        2. Solicitation... "Can you get me some drugs?"
        3. Facilitation..."Here, I'll help you package those drugs.
        4. Accessory... "Here's some money, now go buy some drugs.
        5. Obstruction... "Shit, its the cops, I'll go flush these drugs."
        "

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 7:58am

          Re: Conspiracy charges

          1. Conspiracy... "lets go drive out in my car and get some drugs."

          These days it seems like you could get convicted for conspiracy for being in the room while two other people are talking about maybe getting some drugs.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2015 @ 3:50am

      Re:

      Here's the thing, though; in spite of any concerns I have about the methodology behind the obtaining of evidence, there's little doubt that Ulbricht, at least for some of the time of the Silk Road's existence, was the Dread Pirate Roberts.

      His goose was cooked the minute his attorney decided on using the Chewbacca Defense.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 8:37am

        Re: Re:

        Here's the thing, though; in spite of any concerns I have about the methodology behind the obtaining of evidence, there's little doubt that Ulbricht, at least for some of the time of the Silk Road's existence, was the Dread Pirate Roberts.

        But was he using that nom de guerre *at the time the crimes charged were committed*?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 6:07pm

    "there are concerns to be raised about how this kind of ruling could be used to pin liability on other websites for activities done by users of those websites."

    Yes, god forbid someone that runs a website be held accountable for aiding and abetting illegal acts. Why, that would just be crazy!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 6:33pm

      Re:

      Yes, god forbid someone that runs a website be held accountable for aiding and abetting illegal acts. Why, that would just be crazy!
      Craigslist (prostitution; fencing), EBay (fencing), AirBnB (violating crazy hotel regulations), ...

      Running a website that happens to let its users commit crimes is very easy if users can post unfiltered content. If the site operators knew, or reasonably should have known, that the users were committing crimes and the site operator reasonably could have prevented those crimes, then on a case-by-case basis, liability could be considered. That second qualifier is critical, because otherwise any site that has more traffic than can be policed by its operators is at-risk of becoming an accomplice if criminals start using it as a message exchange site.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 4 Feb 2015 @ 9:36pm

      Re:

      Tell you what, if you really think it's that easy to know when something being posted is illegal, or potentially illegal, why not create your own company that will handle that for others?

      I'm sure many sites would love to be able to offload the task of personally checking thousands of posts, pictures, and hours of video on a daily basis to someone else, safe in the knowledge that if something does slip through, it will be the other guys(your company in this case), who will be on the hook for allowing it to happen.

      Or we could just continue to put the liability on the people actually responsible, the one posting the content, and realize that requiring a site or service provider to personally check everything posted on their site/service would be utterly insane, and completely kill off sites that allow user submitted content, which, while great for the parasites that push the older crap, and have to compete with 'amateur' stuff, would be a huge loss for everyone else.

      By all means, charge him for running a site pretty much specifically designed to sell illegal drugs, but don't try claim that he should be personally held accountable for what others have done, or that sites should be held accountable for what their users do unless it is proven that they knew that specific illegal actions were occurring, had the power to stop said illegal actions, and chose not to.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 9:49pm

        Re: Re:

        It isn't either/or. It was correct to charge him, and it would be correct to charge the users as well.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 4 Feb 2015 @ 9:56pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Fine, but charge him for what he did, not what others have done. Even if they end up unable to do anything about the users, it would not be fair to up the charges leveled against him as a result.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          RD, 5 Feb 2015 @ 9:34am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Ah good. So when your friend borrows your car (or tools, or...) and does something illegal with them without your knowledge, YOU should be hauled off to jail. Glad we have it established that you are OK with paying the price for the crimes of others.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TheCarl, 4 Feb 2015 @ 8:32pm

    Quite frankly, I think the jury got it right.

    As far as I can see, the defence made some huge blunders. If they had managed to have the server, and anything learned from that, declared inadmissible, the case would have collapsed. But they did too little, too late for that.

    As to the charges as such, he was guilty on all counts. Safe harbour requires the owners to take appropriate steps if they become aware of illegal activity. Advising your customers in the best ways to conduct illegal activity is the opposite of appropriate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2015 @ 9:27pm

    Continuing Criminal Enterprise

    #4 is also known as the "drug kingpin" statute, and it has a 20-life range for small kingpins, mandatory life for big kingpins, with the possibility of death for kingpins who murder in the course of business.

    No parole allowed, by law. (21 USC 848)

    There's a very good chance Ulbricht will be treated as a big kingpin and get life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    andyroo, 4 Feb 2015 @ 10:42pm

    Nooooo!!!!

    This means that if i create a web chat program and it becomes popular and people use it to arrange the sale or transport of drugs i can be jailed for their crimes. Seriously i understand this guy was a very big target for the gov. but surely only if he was actually caught doing the crime should he be charged with it. And how can he be charged with conspiracy on so many levels, again the DOJ has thrown every accusation at him in the hope that one will stick, this is not an acceptable way to prosecute people and leads to the Jury being in a position where they, i believe, think they have to find the person guilty on some level.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2015 @ 12:36am

    It's interesting that (as is typical in federal prosecutions) most of the charges are "conspiracy" -- which means that no actual criminal act need be committed. Trolling, bullshitting, and fantasy role-playing over the internet is technically conspiracy, the threshhold for the "crime" is that low.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2015 @ 1:57pm

    Uh, conspiracy is when you conspire with others to break the law. Silk Road existed to do just that- enable people to break the law. He built it, they used it for the reason he built it in the manner he enabled them to use it.

    His actions + their actions = conspiracy.

    There is nothing the least bit confusing here. Not even a little bit.

    Plus we have the spectacle of an avowed Libertarian who "bravely made it his life's work to take a stand against the government sanctioned violence (or as they like to say 'goobmint' of taxation caught red handed hiring an assassin to kill somehow who pissed him off by attempting to color outside the lines Ulbrict decided were the "just" boundaries for human relations, those boundaries being something like:

    illegal drugs to minors-OK !
    kiddie porn-OK !
    murder for hire-OK !
    blackmail-OK !
    blackmailing Ulbricht NOT OK !



    Just a very typical Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Koch brothers, government hating, commons destroying, amphetamine gulping, coke snorting, whoring, "John Galt super man", principled freedom fighter is you ask me.

    Fucking scum. May he rot in jail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      GEMont (profile), 5 Feb 2015 @ 6:10pm

      Re:

      Rot in jail - hell mun, with a resume like what you just posted, he'll be heading his own department at the NSA next week. They been looking for a right minded and properly trained man to head up the MAFIA entertainment industry connection and he sounds like he's their man for the job. No legal bullshit gonna get between this guy and getting the job done, that's fer sure.

      ---

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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