One-page Overview

Ross Ulbricht, is serving a double life sentence without parole, plus 40 years, for all non-violent charges associated with creating the Silk Road website. Passionate about privacy and free markets, he was a 26-year-old idealistic libertarian when he made the site. He had no prior record and no victim was named at trial.

Silk Road was an e-commerce website with an emphasis on user privacy. Using the cryptocurrency Bitcoin on the Tor browser, people anonymously exchanged a variety of goods—both legal and illegal—including drugs (most often small amounts of cannabis, as found by Carnegie Mellon University).

The investigation was permeated by the schemes of corrupt federal agents now in prison and derailed by a power struggle among competing law enforcement agencies.

Ross’s Fourth Amendment privacy rights were violated before, during, and after his arrest, and the prosecution repeatedly lied to the court about the investigation. The prosecutors used unprosecuted, unproven allegations of planning violence that never actually occurred (and were later dismissed with prejudice) to deny Ross bail, smear him in the media, bias his jurors and justify the draconian sentence he ultimately received. Ross was prosecuted as a drug kingpin, not for selling drugs but for creating a platform where others did, despite established laws protecting providers from liability for their users’ content.

At trial, all mention of the corruption was hidden from the jury, as well as evidence that multiple people operated the top admin “DPR” accounts. After trial, it was discovered that someone using the DPR account logged into the Silk Road forum seven weeks after Ross was imprisoned. It was also later discovered that evidence used against Ross had been tampered with before trial, ostensibly by an additional corrupt agent.

Ross’s lawyers were deprived of essential material at key points in the proceedings, prevented from calling expert witnesses, and blocked from cross-examining government witnesses. With the defense eviscerated, the prosecution’s unreliable digital evidence convinced the jury, and Ross was convicted on all counts.

The presiding judge based Ross’s sentence on what she perceived to be his philosophical beliefs, as well as allegations he was never charged with. She rejected independent academic studies showing that Silk Road reduced harm in the drug trade and that excessive sentences do not deter crime. She also rejected 100 letters [PDF] written by people who know Ross, attesting to his fine character and pleading with her to give him the mandatory minimum of 20 years. Instead, she sentenced Ross to two life sentences without parole + 40 years, whereas other Silk Road defendants with similar charges received sentences ranging from 17 months to 10 years.

Ross’s appeals were denied and the Supreme Court declined to hear his case. Nevertheless, his case has widespread support and his recent clemency petition surpassed 60,000 signers in its first month, and now has nearly 160,000 signatures.

He is currently serving his sixth year in prison and is imprisoned in Arizona.

Even in the face of his barbaric sentence, Ross clings to the hope of reuniting with his family, and dreams of a future where he can use his education, knowledge and skills to contribute to his community and society.