Ross Ulbricht Case Overview

Ross Ulbricht, a young, peaceful first-time offender, is serving a double life sentence without parole, plus 40 years, for all non-violent charges associated with creating the Silk Road 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 and is wildly disproportionate to those imposed on others for similar, or worse, conduct.

Ross has expressed profound remorse for his mistake and taken responsibility for it. He has learned his lesson the hard way and if given a second chance, he would never come near breaking the law again.

Silk Road was an online 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, because of the site’s anonymity, many also chose to exchange drugs, most commonly personal use amounts of marijuana (proven 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 sold on the site.

Ross is the victim of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, and of the media, which relentlessly smeared him with unprosecuted, false allegations of planning violence that never occurred—and were later dismissed with prejudice. His case was tainted by corrupt agents now in prison, warrantless spying and lies under oath by the FBI and AUSA, proven evidence tampering, preclusion of exculpatory evidence, and much. All the other Silk Road defendants received sentences ranging from 17 months to 10 years.

Rife with abuse, this case—the investigation, trial and sentencing—sets dangerous precedent. Ross and his legal team at Williams & Connolly LLP, led by Kannon Shanmugam and supported by 21 groups from across the political spectrum, petitioned the Supreme Court challenging important Fourth and Sixth Amendment violations, but the Court declined to hear the case.

Since his arrest, Ross has been steadfastly supported by his family and friends. There is a growing consensus that his case is a miscarriage of justice and close to 100 eminent organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum have voiced their support. These include the Libertarian Party, Reason Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, Cato Institute, FreedomWorks, People’s Law Office, Buried Alive Project, CAN-DO Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute, R Street Institute, FreedomWorks, Downsize DC, and American Conservative Union Foundation. He also has widespread grassroots support, including from the criminal justice reform, technology, blockchain and liberty communities. His recent clemency petition is steadily growing with nearly 160,000 signatures to date.

While enduring the harshness of prison for his sixth consecutive year, Ross has been a model inmate—leading classes, tutoring, helping fellow inmates and being a good influence. He has never received a disciplinary sanction. Based solely on his life sentence, and despite his non-violent history and low security score, he is being held at a maximum-security prison.

Even in the face of his barbaric sentence, Ross clings to the hope of a second chance and dreams of a future where he can use his education, knowledge and skills to contribute society and inspire change as an advocate for criminal justice reform.

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