Ross Ulbricht, the brains behind the underground website Silk Road, renowned for the easy-access sale of illicit drugs, has officially made his appeal plea to the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS).
This formal application seeks to set up a hearing to overturn his sentencing of life imprisonment without the likelihood of any parole.
ANNOUNCEMENT: Silk Road is BACK ONLINE NOW as Silk Road 3.1 and open for business. The team did a change and upgrade for a reason we can only assume for security.
Defined as the writ of certiorari, this plea orders the next lower court (the Court of Appeals), to immediately submit all its records to the Supreme Court for it to review and consequently make a ruling.
Supreme Court to Possibly Review Silk Road Case
The SCOTUS comprises a nine-member bench that functions as the ultimate arbiter in all legal matters.
Of the nine in the current court, five are considered reasonably conservative while the rest (four in number) are generally more permissive.
Neil Gorsuch, the overall head of the court just recently appointed by U.S. President Donald Trump, is considered to be reasonably fair on issues of the Fourth Amendment, which forms the grounds on which Ulbricht is basing his appeal case.
Nevertheless, despite the hype surrounding this case, much is yet to be done before anything substantial is known.
Amazingly, the SCOTUS is not obligated to go ahead with this petition.
In truth, the SCOTUS only sits to hear approximately 150 cases of the more than 7,000 pleas submitted to its premises on an annual basis.
In most cases, the rulings as delivered by the federal Circuit Courts act as the ultimate word for many of the cases.
Surprisingly, of the several appellate courts, the Second Circuit (which delivered Ulbricht’s ruling) receives the lowest reversal frequency from the SCOTUS.
This means that for Ulbricht, taking the case to the SCOTUS may not offer him the reprieve he so much hopes for even if the SCOTUS decides to take up the matter.
In many cases, the SCOTUS will only hear a writ if it concerns national significance or if they want to lay the curtain on existing inconsistencies in a decision, or even to establish precedence.
What’s more, they only hear a case if four of the nine justices vote to accept it.
The clerks of the justices do the initial reviewing of the writ, and it is from there that they draft a summary recommending a hearing.
The justices then convene for a conference to deliberate on these recommendations and decide on whether or not to proceed with the trial.
Two Questions for Silk Road Appeal Argument
The plea submitted by Ulbricht’s lawyers centers on two critical questions as per the writ:
- Is the Fourth Amendment violated in case of a warrantless seizure without probable cause on a person’s internet traffic?
- Does the Sixth Amendment allow judges to require that facts be presented to support an otherwise unreasonable sentence?
However, looking at the U.S. Constitution, there is a particularly peculiar aspect especially since the document outlines the duties of the government and its characteristic functions, but it also describes the amendments to those precise functions.
The top ten form what is called the “Bill of Rights,” which are restrictive laws that prohibit the government from committing certain acts.
The pertinent part of the Fourth Amendment on which Ulbricht’s case centers involves citizens’ right to privacy.
The amendment states that their privacy should not be violated unless the courts issue a warrant upon probable cause.
Similarly, the pertinent Sixth Amendment section states that the defendant in any criminal prosecution has the right to a fair and speedy trial under an impartial jury.
With this in mind, Ulbricht’s lead attorney outlines that the Silk Road case presents two significant constitutional questions with a wider significance for criminal defendant rights in general.
Urgent Need for Digital Age Legislation
Warrantless searches potentially play a significant role in this particular case since the information the prosecutors used against the defendant was apparently compiled under a third-party doctrine.
This allowed Silk Road investigators to carry out searches on Ross Ulbricht’s digital activities, presumed to be publically accessible via a telecommunications firm and a modem.
The doctrine in itself needs immediate amending notably because it dates back to a time when laptops, phones and internet services did not form a critical part of a person’s daily routine.