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View all…Two leading US non-profits dedicated to reforming drug laws have said that Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht’s sentence of life without parole should be thrown out and that he should be remanded to another judge for re-sentencing.
Ulbricht was convicted last year of conspiracy drug-trafficking charges, as well as distributing false IDs, computer hacking, and money laundering. He admitted to founding the Silk Road darknet marketplace, but his lawyer said it was later handed off to others. Ulbricht is appealing his conviction and his sentence.
“Life sentences are exceedingly rare in the federal criminal justice system, particularly for individuals, like Mr. Ulbricht, with no prior criminal record,” write lawyers for the Drug Policy Alliance in an amicus brief (PDF) filed yesterday. “This is particularly true for people convicted of drug offenses, including drug trafficking.
In 2013, life sentences were imposed in less than one-third of one percent of all drug trafficking cases… Life sentences are typically reserved for people who committed violent crimes.”
More than 90 percent of US life sentences involve murder, sexual assault, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, or kidnapping.
The typical sentence for a federal drug conviction, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, is 75.5 months or 6.3 years.
In state prisons, the average sentence is five years.
The brief, which is also signed by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a former federal judge, asks the appeals court to overturn Ulbricht’s sentence because it “shocks the conscience” and violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
“Unsubstantiated” murders-for-hire shouldn’t be in the mix
The amicus brief is solely focused on Ulbricht’s harsh sentence and doesn’t take issue with his conviction.
It also argues that US District Judge Katherine Forrest improperly considered six overdose deaths the government has tied to Silk Road.
Those overdoses have a “specious” connection to the Silk Road, in the view of the amici.
“The actual causes of overdose are incredibly complex,” write DPA lawyers.
They argue that if policy makers instituted limits on opioid prescriptions, expanded access to anti-overdose drug naloxone, and expanded substance abuse treatment, it would do far more good than a severe punishment for Ulbricht.
Considering overdose deaths in his sentencing violates his due process rights, they say.
The brief also takes issue with Forrest’s consideration of the murder for hire allegations against Ulbricht, which were “uncharged, unadjudicated, and ultimately unsubstantiated.” Those allegations weren’t evaluated by a jury in any way and shouldn’t have been used as a rationale at sentencing, according to the brief.
Finally, Forrest said part of her reason for the life sentence was to deter future criminals who might consider creating a darknet marketplace. The groups argue that was clear error, and there’s no deterrence value in long sentences.
“For over 40 years the failed war on drugs has demonstrated that draconian sentences do not deter drug law violations,” the brief states.
“Mr. Ulbricht’s draconian sentence flies in the face of evolving standards of decency,” Jolene Forman, the Drug Policy Alliance attorney who was lead author of the brief, said in a statement. “Nationally, lawmakers are working across the political aisle to reduce harsh sentences for drug offenses.
And, many of our allies in Europe consider life without parole sentences inhumane.”
Aurich LawsonThe Silk Road Trial