Chuck Schumer is angry. After all, three years ago he stood on the courthouse steps and demanded that Silk Road be taken down. This was temporarily accomplished last October, and Ross Ulbricht — the man the government claims ran the site as DPR — was arrested. Curiously, DPR posted on the Silk Road forum within days of Ross’ arrest, and Silk Road was back online shortly thereafter. Still run by DPR, it has more than doubled in size, and many similar markets have sprung up. Business is thriving.
Rather than pondering whether they got the right man, Schumer recently ignored one of the most sacred principles of the criminal justice system: presumption of innocence. He publicly convicted Ulbricht in a press statement and open letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder:
With your help, the Silk Road was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2013, and I am pleased that DOJ is currently prosecuting its operator and holding him accountable.
Not an “alleged” in sight. No “innocent until proven guilty” here! Rush to judgement anyone?
It’s bad enough that many journalists sloppily ignore the need to assume the innocence of an unconvicted man. It’s far worse when a US Senator does it. Why even bother to have a trial with a judge, jury, evidence, witnesses and all that other pesky stuff? Why not just convict because Chuck Schumer says so?
No matter that this is a breach of separation of powers: a representative of the legislative branch inserting himself into judicial matters. Or that this is a highly prejudicial statement from a senator from New York, where the trial is to be held. No matter that absolutely nothing has been proven.
I would have bet money that when the senator attended Harvard Law School they taught presumption of innocence. Was he absent that day? If so, surely as a fledgling politician he would have recalled it. After all, in 1981 Schumer himself was investigated by a Federal grand jury because of accusations of illegalities in his Congressional campaign.
When senators are sworn in, they take an Oath of Office. Part of that says: I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. Surely this would include upholding the sacred tradition of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.
In the wake of this stunning statement from a US Senator, I am left wondering: How can Ross be assured of a fair trial in a state where the senator has already publicly convicted him?