As anticipated, the Ross Ulbricht legal team have filed a lengthy appeal of the verdict that placed him in prison for life.
As dinbits reported last year, it was unlikely for this not to happen. Attorney Joshua Dratel had stated that not only would they appeal, he went as far as to state the many reasons why this would happen almost immediately after the sentence was read.
The appeal, which is 170 pages long mind you, appeals the verdict of
"ROSS WILLIAM ULBRICHT, AKA DREAD PIRATE ROBERTS, AKA SILK ROAD, AKA SEALED DEFENDANT 1, AKA DPR"
The Ulbricht legal team goes on to state an abundance of reasons that it considers grounds for appeal going so far as to state that the court abused its power in several instances.
"THE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION AND DENIED ULBRICHT HIS FIFTH AND SIXTH AMENDMENT RIGHTS TO DUE PROCESS, THE RIGHT TO PRESENT A DEFENSE, AND A FAIR TRIAL BY (A) PRECLUDING THE DEFENSE FROM USING AT TRIAL THE EVIDENCE RELATING TO DEA SPECIAL AGENT CARL FORCE’S CORRUPTION; (B) REFUSING TO ORDER THE GOVERNMENT TO PROVIDE ADDITIONAL DISCOVERY AND BRADY MATERIAL REGARDING CORRUPTION; AND (C) DENYING ULBRICHT’S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL BASED ON ADDITIONAL POST-TRIAL DISCLOSURES REGARDING FORCE AND ANOTHER CORRUPT LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENT INVOLVED IN THE SILK ROAD INVESTIGATION"
That was the first point of many and goes on to name several more:
- THE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION BY CURTAILING CROSS-EXAMINATION AND THE DEFENSE THEORY AT TRIAL
- THE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN PRECLUDING TWO DEFENSE EXPERTS
- THE COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN PRECLUDING
- ADMISSION OF ANDREW JONES’S STATEMENT AGAINST PENAL INTEREST PURSUANT TO RULE 804(3)(b), FED.R.EVID., AND/OR RULE 807, FED.R.EVID.
- THE COURT’S ERRONEOUS EVIDENTIARY RULINGS CONSTITUTED CUMULATIVE ERROR THAT DEPRIVED ULBRICHT OF DUE PROCESS AND A FAIR TRIAL
In additional to the abuse of discretion claims, it is alleged that Ulbricht's fourth amendment rights were violated.
THE UNLIMITED SEARCHES AND SEIZURE OF ULBRICHT’S ENTIRE LAPTOP AND GMAIL AND FACEBOOK ACCOUNTS VIOLATED THE FOURTH AMENDMENT BECAUSE THEY CONSTITUTED THE FRUIT OF (A) A WARRANT THAT LACKED ANY PARTICULARITY; AND (B) UNLAWFUL AND WARRANTLESS PEN REGISTER AND TRAP AND TRACE ORDERS
The appeal also claims life in prison is unreasonable, or substantially unreasonable as they put it:
THE LIFE SENTENCE IMPOSED ON ULBRICHT WAS PROCEDURALLY AND SUBSTANTIVELY UNREASONABLE
Will It Work?
The appeal is aggressive for the legal team and for good reason, a previous request was denied by the Judge in the case last year. The question is, will this work?
Well, likely not for that last reason, Silk Road damaged allot of lives and ended others. The sentence was not unheard of by any means.
What they do have in their favor specifically is the Judge over the case, Katherine B. Forrest, refusing to allow the submission of what they consider "crucial evidence" in the case (Point III). This was a bit bewildering at the time it happened but in a nutshell, the Judge was within her full right to do this. The prosecution had no prior knowledge of the witnesses the defense wanted to call, thus unprepared, and this was coming after some other questionable moves on the part of the defense. In other words, she might have just been fed up with the defense, but regardless,she was still fully within her right to do what she did.
Should she have done it? That's one for the legal experts who have full knowledge of the case to present their arguments, but you would think that in a case as publicized as this one carrying a penalty of life in prison that she would have decided to hear the witnesses and given the prosecution ample time for preparation. That is obviously not what she did.
The other item that could weigh heavily in favor of the defense in the fourth amendment violation claim. The appeal states that:
"The search of Ulbricht’s laptop violated the Fourth Amendment because the warrant authorizing the search lacked any particularity, but instead expressly and purposefully sought a search without any limiting principle."
It goes on to name the broadly use reasoning for searching the computer for evidence which leads to an issue with probable cause as well. They specifically do not tie the justification of search and seizure to any specific data sought, instead they were able to search everything including thing of a personal nature such as relationships, political views, etc.. and that most certainly could be a violation of rights, however if you look at the way it's worded, the warrant ties the SUBJECT OFFENSES to the ability to identify and support these offenses by way of providing additional evidence, which would both support the defense in its particularity claim or justify the warrant depending on how it was performed and conducted.
Lets face it, anyone who has dealt with authorities knows very well that they don't operate "by the book", nor are they even fully qualified to understand the depth of legal implications in the event they improperly obtain specific data. This could be plausible, but the claim in regards to Gmail for example could be a dumb move on authorities part since they could have legally obtained this same information by going through Google who by contract of service terms for using Gmail allows them to do anything they want with this information including hand it over to authorities. It's plausible the warrant may have been misappropriated in this instance, hard to tell without more information.
So will Ulbricht get a new trial? Hard to say, but after reading the entire 170 pages once very quickly there appears to be some grounds for it. It's clear the legal team handling this are not going to give in easily and plan to continue in their pursuit of a new trial. The Judge here may decide pay attention to this appeal before things get out of hand, but at this point, its hard to adequately predict what decision will be made.
Editor's Note: The full appeal can be read here: Ulricht Appeal
Article by Dale Henry
Banner Image by dinbits staff
Ulricht Sketch by Elizabeth Williams (AP)