Ross Ulbricht Case Overview

Ross Ulbricht, a young, peaceful first-time offender, is serving a double life sentence plus 40 years, without parole, for all non-violent charges associated with creating the Silk Road e-commerce website. An Eagle Scout and scholarship student, he was a 26-year-old idealistic libertarian—passionate about free markets and privacy—when he made the site. Ross was never prosecuted for causing harm or bodily injury and no victim was named at trial. This is a sentence that shocks the conscience.

Accepts Responsibility

In prison since 2013, Ross has expressed heartfelt remorse for creating Silk Road and accepts responsibility for the mistake he made. Although he never intended harm, he has learned how even well-meaning and idealistic actions can have unintended consequences. Now much wiser and more mature, Ross has vowed that, should he be released, he would never come close to breaking the law again.

Silk Road was an online anonymous marketplace similar to eBay, that emphasized privacy and used Bitcoin as the means of exchange. Based on the non-aggression principle, it allowed people to voluntarily buy and sell what they chose, as long as no third party was harmed. Consequently, the site prohibited child pornography, violent services, stolen property, and generally anything used to “harm or defraud” others. Items exchanged included books, art, clothing, and electronics. However, many vendors realized that the site’s anonymity made it an attractive platform for selling illegal drugs (most commonly small amounts of marijuana, as shown by a Carnegie Mellon University study).

Ross was not accused of selling drugs or illegal items himself, nor did he launder money or hack computers, but was held responsible for what others listed on the site.

“I thought at the time that I was promoting my ideals, but I have since learned what a terrible mistake I made. [Silk Road] was supposed to be a place where anyone could buy or sell whatever they chose so long as they weren’t hurting someone else […] Over countless hours, I have searched my soul and examined the misguided decisions I made when I was younger. I have dug deep and made a sincere effort to not just change what I do, but who I am. I am no longer the type of man who could break the law and let down so many.”
– Ross in letter to the President [PDF]

Corruption, Sentencing Disparity, and More

Ross was smeared with unprosecuted, false allegations of planning murder-for-hire that never occurred, were never proven, never ruled on by a jury, and were ultimately dismissed with prejudice. His case was tainted by corrupt agents (later sent to prison), warrantless spying, proven evidence tampering, and more.

All the other Silk Road defendants received sentences of six years on average, including the actual drug sellers, the men who helped run Silk Road, and the men behind Silk Road 2.0, a larger replica. Nearly all are free today.

Ross and his legal team at Williams & Connolly, supported by 21 organizations, petitioned the Supreme Court, challenging important Fourth and Sixth Amendment violations in the case, but the Court declined to hear it.

Widespread Support for Clemency

There is a strong consensus from across the political spectrum that Ross deserves clemency and his sentence should be commuted. This encompasses current and former legislators, criminal justice reform advocates, academics, clergymen, respected businessmen, technologists, and more. Over 250 organizations and eminent individuals have voiced their support for Ross’s clemency.

Ross’s online clemency petition is steadily growing with over 1/2 million signatures and is the largest clemency petition to the President on

Over 300 people who personally know Ross have written and signed letters/testimonials, testifying to his excellent character and how much he has helped others.

Exemplary Prison Conduct

Ross and others serving life sentences
for non-violent drug offenses

Ross is currently serving his 11th year in prison. He has been a model prisoner as recognized by BOP staff—leading classes, tutoring, mediating conflicts, and serving as a Suicide Watch Companion. He has never received a disciplinary sanction. Ross has also dedicated part of the sale of his art to to helping current and former prisoners through a charitable fund called Art4Giving. Sor far, over $720,000 has been donated to charity.

Based solely on the length of his sentence, and despite his non-violent history and low security score, Ross is being held at a maximum-security facility.

Throughout his ordeal, Ross has remained a fundamentally positive and compassionate human being. He clings to the hope of a second chance and dreams of a future where he can start a family with his fiancée, and make positive contributions to society with his education and skills.