Ross Ulbricht has lost his bid to set aside his life sentence for selling illegal drugs through the now defunct underground website Silk Road.
Ulbricht, who operated Silk Road from 2011 through 2013 under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in 2015 on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, computer hacking and selling fake documents.
Ulbricht asked the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, New York, for a new trial, arguing that his rights had been violated by evidence suppression and procedural errors, and that his sentence was unreasonable.
On Wednesday, the appeals court rejected his claims and affirmed the lower court's decision.
Among the various arguments considered and dismissed was Ulbricht's contention that recording network IP address traffic amounts to a privacy violation similar to using thermal imaging on a home to detect marijuana cultivation – a tactic disallowed as a result of a 2001 case, Kyllo v United States.
Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch, writing for a three-judge panel, found the monitoring of IP address traffic no different than monitoring phone numbers dialed using a pen register, an established investigative tool.
Ulbricht also argued that his inability to introduce evidence of investigator corruption tainted his case. Former Secret Service agent Shaun Bridges and former Drug Enforcement Administration agent Carl Force, while working for those organizations, exploited their positions to steal bitcoin and were subsequently arrested and convicted of money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Much of what these investigators did was not raised during Ulbricht's trial, but the judges don't see that as an issue.
Acknowledging that Force did not testify at trial, Judge Lynch wrote, "information related to his corruption would not have been relevant to attack the credibility of any testimony he would have given."
Even allowing that the lower court could have erred in not granting at least some of Ulbricht's discovery requests, "any such error does not justify a new trial," Judge Lynch wrote.
The three-judge panel reviewing the case was similarly unmoved by Ulbricht's claim that his sentence was influenced unfairly by the prosecution's mention of the overdose deaths of several people who bought drugs from Silk Road.
"Even were we to conclude that the evidence of the Silk Road-related deaths should not have been received, any error would be harmless, because the record is absolutely clear that the district court, after finding that Ulbricht commissioned five murders, would have imposed the same sentence if the evidence of the drug-related deaths had been excluded," wrote Judge Lynch.
Ulbricht's attorney Joshua Dratel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The sentencing table in the US Sentencing Commission's Guidelines Manual, on page 428 out of 628 in the PDF (420 in page footer), defines 43 levels of severity for offenses. The recommended sentence for level 43 is life. As Judge Lynch observed in a footnote, the calculated offense level for Ulbricht was 50, due to the massive quantity of drugs involved and the commissioning of murder. ®