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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dread Pirate Roberts Appeals Life Sentence

Dread Pirate Roberts?
Ross Ulbricht, whose nom de guerre is "Dread Pirate Roberts", infamous for being the mastermind behind the now-defunct dark web site Silk Road according to the FBI, was jury-convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He filed his 174-page appeal brief in January with the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The Silk Road web site proved difficult for the feds to deconstruct; it's progenitor was elusive. It took an innovative IRS task-force agent familiar with the shady world of bitcoin to put 2 and 2 together, locate and arrest Ulbricht.

This is a fascinating cyber-crime tale. Ulbricht's appeals brief, the best money can buy, tells the story of a month-long jury trial gone wrong. Appellant's brief raises several legal arguments and asserts the federal district judge in Manhattan repeatedly abused his discretion and got several evidentiary and legal rulings wrong.

For those unfamiliar, Silk Road was a dark web site that offered many illegal items for sale including computer hacking equipment, false documents, and an assortment of illegal controlled substances. Bitcoin was the currency used for these transactions. As a currency, bitcoin was perfect for the Silk Road enterprise: it is electronic currency; and it allows sellers and purchasers to remain anonymous.

We here at the Law Blogger realize that few of our readers will take the time to read the Appellant's brief linked above; a veritable legal tomb. The brief nevertheless reads like a cyber-crime thriller that only a defense lawyer could love.

Basically, Mr. Ulbricht denies that he was Dread Pirate Roberts; claims that he was framed by the real DPR; and says he was denied a fair trial due to the "vulnerabilities inherent to the internet and digital data such as fabrication and manipulation of files and hacking," and that these vulnerabilities invalidated most of the government's evidence.

In a very well-written brief, the Pirate raises the following issues:
  • a key DEA agent involved in the Silk Road investigation was himself under investigation and evidence of this corruption was precluded from being introduced in Ulbricht's defense; 
  • the trial court severely curtailed Ulbrecht's cross-examination of key special agent witnesses relative to the accused's "alternate perpetrator" defense;
  • the trial court erred by disallowing two defense expert witnesses from testifying;
  • the "unlimited" searches and seizure of Ulbrecht's lap top, GMail account and Facebook account violated the Fourth Amendment's search and seizure clause; and 
  • Ulbrecht's life sentence was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable.
Often tasked with mining federal jury trial transcripts for error and writing-up the issues in appellate briefs, we here at the Law Blogger love this brief; a masterpiece that raises wide-ranging evidentiary and constitutional issues in a very unique and significant case.

With the usual extensions, the United States' appellee's brief will be filed in Manhattan sometime in June or July; we will keep you posted on this one as we will be tracking the Pirate's path.

Post #528

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