Drug Reform Groups Want To Overturn Silk Road Creator’s Sentence

Two of the leading non-profits in the US that are dedicated to bringing in reform to drug laws said recently that the sentencing of life imprisonment without parole imposed on the founder of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, should be withdrawn. Further, they also said that Ulbricht should be re-sentenced by remanding him to another judge.

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Last year, Ulbricht was convicted for charges which include conspiracy to drug-trafficking, money laundering and computer hacking. Ulbricht admitted to creating the darknet marketplace, Silk Road. However, his lawyer said that he handed it over to others later. The Silk Road founder is appealing his conviction as well as sentencing.

Last week, in an amicus brief that was filed, the lawyers for Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) wrote that life sentences are imposed exceedingly rarely under the federal criminal justice system, especially in the case of individuals like Ulbricht who do not have any prior criminal record. They also noted that this is specifically true in the case of people convicted of offenses related to drugs, which includes drug trafficking as well. Further, the lawyers have argued that life sentence was imposed in only 3 percent of all cases of drug trafficking. Typically, it is reserved for those that commit violent crimes.

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In the US, more than ninety percent of the life sentence cases involve sexual assault, murder, aggravated assault, rape, kidnapping, or robbery. According to Bureau of Drug Statistics, individuals are sentenced for 6.3 years or 75.5 months for drug conviction. The sentencing imposed by state prisons, on average, is five years.

The brief was also signed by a former federal judge and LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). According to the brief, the appeals court should overturn the sentence imposed on Ulbricht for two reasons: one is that it violates Eighth Amendment (it prohibits unusual and cruel punishment) and the other is that it “shocks the conscience.”

The amicus brief, which focuses solely on harsh treatment imposed on Ulbricht, does not have any problem with his conviction. Additionally, it points out that the six drug overdose deaths, which have been tied to the Silk Road case by government, have been wrongly considered by the US District Judge Katherine Forrest. In fact, the overdose cases have only a superficially plausible connection with the Silk Road, according to the amici.

According to the DPA lawyers, the causes of overdose are complex. They also argue that it is a better idea to specify limits for opioid prescriptions and expand access to naloxone (anti-overdose drug) and substance abuse treatment instead of imposing severe punishment on the Silk Road founder. Further, they point out that sentencing Ulbricht, keeping in mind drug overdose deaths, amounts to violation of process rights due to him.

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Additionally, the brief objects to the consideration of the allegation of murder for hire against Ross Ulbricht by Judge Forrest (a jury has not evaluated the allegations). Finally, the groups also object to the reason – prevent creation of darknet marketplaces by future criminals – given by Forrest for sentencing Ulbricht to a life-term in jail. They also argue that long sentences do not have any deterrence value and that the last 40 years of war on drugs has clearly demonstrated the same.

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