Why a Silk Road Retrial Is Necessary

It only took a few hours for a jury to convict Ross Ulbricht of running the infamous online drug marketplace Silk Road, so the urge to write off Ulbricht's lawyer's bid for a retrial as a desperate move is understandable. But desperate or not, a retrial is important, and it should be granted. Because the FBI evidence that led to Ulbricht's guilt may not have been collected legally.

The crux of defense attorney Joshua Dratchel's argument for a retrial is this: The government did not provide exculpatory evidence in a timely manner, and based on that evidence, the defense should be able to look at whether the government broke the law in the ways that it collected other information. According to the filing, the evidence that the government turned over late in the game shows that "the government was conducting warrantless TOR surveillance."

If the government did conduct illegal warrantless surveillance, allowing that evidence in court was unconstitutional. And not even allowing the defense to bring up the fact that it was getting tied to a crime with fruit from a poisoning and privacy-encroaching tree sent a message that it's okay for law enforcement to skirt the law when they're snooping on suspects, which is basically the exact opposite messages courts should be sending.

The United States has a government surveillance problem. The courts are one of the public's only defenses against giving agencies like the FBI unfettered powers of surveillance, so it's deeply messed up that a court wouldn't take every opportunity to check those powers.

I'm not saying Ulbricht deserves a new trial because he's innocent. Hell, there is uncontested evidence that makes him look really bad. He deserves one because the government's surveillance techniques should've been looked at here.

Allowing the FBI to produce evidence without confirming that it was obtained legally. And even though Ulbicht was the one on trial, the government still needs to be held accountable for its actions. A defense can only rest if a defense is allowed in the first place.


Image: AP

Contact the author at kate.knibbs@gizmodo.com.
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