Blocked Cross-Examination

“In a case in which that lack of integrity of digital information, created and transmitted on an anonymous untraceable internet network, was of paramount importance, and in which the government did not produce a single witness to testify firsthand that Ulbricht authored any of the communications attributable to DPR, and which was permeated by corruption of two law enforcement agents participating in the investigation, the restrictions on cross-examination, and preclusion of expert witnesses offered to overcome those restrictions, eviscerated Ulbricht’s defense and denied him a fair trial.” – Ross’s appeal.[1]

Throughout Ross’s trial, the presiding judge abused her discretion by repeatedly sustaining objections from the lead prosecutor, Serrin Turner, preventing the jury from hearing key testimony. She also blocked cross-examination that would have shown how unreliable the digital evidence used to convict Ross was.

Trial Day 3

The first to take the stand at trial on January 16 2015, was government witness Special Agent Jared Der-Yeghiayan who had spent two years and thousands of hours, under many aliases, on Silk Road.[2] He became a trusted moderator called “cirrus” and actually helped run the site. Joshua Dratel, Ross’s lawyer, attempted to question Der-Yeghiayan about his lengthy investigation of Mark Karpeles, who he believed was behind Silk Road. (He also believed that more than one person used the DPR identity).

Trial day 4: Court does a 180

Despite the fact that the judge called Der-Yeghiayan’s testimony “highly relevant” on January 16,[3] when trial reconvened four days later, she “performed a complete about-face” and forbade questioning of Der-Yeghiayan regarding Karpeles.[4] The beliefs Der-Yeghiayan had formed during his investigation were now ruled “off limits.”[5] All further testimony regarding an alternate perpetrator was now found to be “irrelevant.”[6]

The judge went further and struck all Der-Yeghiayan’s testimony about Karpeles from the record[7] and instructed the jury to “disregard” it.[8]

When Dratel resumed his cross-examination of Der-Yeghiayan, he did his best to reintroduce as much as he could of Karpeles’s involvement but to no avail. Turner objected to virtually every question (100 times to be exact), and the judge sustained most of them.[9]

Jared Der-Yeghiayan
Illustration: Susie Cagle

Technical and Forensic Witnesses

U.S Attorney Serrin Turner
Illustration: Susie Cagle
Dratel was also prevented from cross-examining FBI Special Agent Thomas Kiernan, who seized Ross’s laptop at his arrest and presented information about it at trial. This information was crucial to the prosecution’s case against Ross, yet its integrity and authenticity was not allowed to be questioned. Again, repeated objections from the prosecution were sustained, making it impossible for Dratel to interrogate Kiernan about the laptop or the files found on it.[10]

Dratel was not permitted to call a defense expert on Ross’s behalf to challenge Kiernan’s testimony either.

Ross’s defense was “eviscerated,” Dratel stated.[11] Or as Forbes put it, “completely and utterly derailed.”[12]