United States v. Ross William Ulbricht – Silk Road
May 31, 2017

Case Law Support


Docket No. 15-1815 Decided: May 31, 2017

Before: NEWMAN, LYNCH, and DRONEY, Circuit Judges.JOSHUA L. DRATEL, Joshua L. Dratel, P.C., New York, NY, for defendant-appellant Ross William Ulbricht. EUN YOUNG CHOI, Assistant United States Attorney (Michael D. Neff, Timothy T. Howard, Adam S. Hickey, Assistant United States Attorneys, on the brief), for Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY. Tamar Todd, Jolene Forman, Drug Policy Alliance, Oakland, CA, for amici curiae Drug Policy Alliance, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, JustLeadershipUSA, and Nancy Gertner. Joel B. Rudin, Law Offices of Joel B. Rudin, P.C., New York, NY; Steven R. Morrison, University of North Dakota School of Law, Grand Forks, ND, for amicus curiae National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Defendant Ross William Ulbricht appeals from a judgment of conviction and sentence to life imprisonment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Katherine B. Forrest, J.). A jury convicted Ulbricht of drug trafficking and other crimes associated with his creation and operation of Silk Road, an online marketplace whose users primarily purchased and sold illegal goods and services. He challenges several aspects of his conviction and sentence, arguing that (1) the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence assertedly obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) the district court committed numerous errors that deprived him of his right to a fair trial, and incorrectly denied his motion for a new trial; and (3) his life sentence is both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Because we identify no reversible error, we AFFIRM Ulbricht’s conviction and sentence in all respects.



In February 2015, a jury convicted Ross William Ulbricht on seven counts arising from his creation and operation of Silk Road under the username Dread Pirate Roberts (“DPR”).1 Silk Road was a massive, anonymous criminal marketplace that operated using the Tor Network, which renders Internet traffic through the Tor browser extremely difficult to trace.2 Silk Road users principally bought and sold drugs, false identification documents, and computer hacking software. Transactions on Silk Road exclusively used Bitcoins, an anonymous but traceable digital currency.3 The site also contained a private message system, which allowed users to send messages to each other (similar to communicating via email), a public forum to discuss topics related to Silk Road, and a “wiki,” which is like an encyclopedia that users could access to receive advice about using the site. Silk Road customers and vendors could also access a support section of the website to seek help from the marketplace’s administrators when an issue arose.

According to the government, between 2011 and 2013, thousands of vendors used Silk Road to sell approximately $183 million worth of illegal drugs, as well as other goods and services. Ulbricht, acting as DPR, earned millions of dollars in profits from the commissions collected by Silk Road on purchases. In October 2013, the government arrested Ulbricht, seized the Silk Road servers, and shut down the site.