A US District Court has shot down a motion to toss out the government's evidence against alleged Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht, ruling that the FBI's investigation did not violate Ulbricht's Fourth Amendment rights.
In a 38-page ruling, District Judge Katherine Forrest wrote that the defense could not exclude evidence gathered from the Icelandic server that hosted the Silk Road darknet service, rejecting Ulbricht's attorneys' argument that the probe was conducted illegally.
The order, in large part, sides with the arguments put forward by the prosecutors in the case.
Ulbricht's lawyers had argued that the FBI's search of the server, which was carried out without a warrant, violated Ulbricht's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Judge Forrest, however, ruled that the Fourth Amendment did not apply in Ulbricht's case.
In particular, the judge noted that Ulbricht had failed to establish that he had a "personal privacy interest" in the server. Had he submitted a sworn statement asserting such interest, she observed, it could not have been admitted as evidence of his guilt during his trial, although it could have been used to poke holes in his testimony should he take the witness stand.
Ulbricht has offered no such statement, however, presumably to keep his story straight: he denies being the operator of Silk Road. But if he doesn't come forward and say the server is his, Judge Forrest said, he can't establish that he has a personal privacy interest in it – and absent the expectation of privacy, he can't claim Fourth Amendment protection.
"Here, the Court does not know whether Ulbricht made a tactical choice because he is – as they say – between a rock and a hard place, or because he truly has no personal privacy interest in the servers at issue," the judge wrote. "It is clear, however, that this Court may not proceed with a Fourth Amendment analysis in the absence of the requisite interest."
The information gathered from the search of the Icelandic server was later used to issue warrants within the US to gather information in the investigation leading up to Ulbricht's arrest on drug and conspiracy charges. Judge Forrest acknowledged that had the defense prevailed, virtually all of the evidence pinning Ulbricht as the head of Silk Road would have been excluded.
As it is, the judge declined Ulbricht's lawyers' motion to suppress the evidence against him and his case will move forward, with his trial due to begin in November. ®