Reactions to Silk Road Operator Ross Ulbricht's Life Sentence

Following a court ruling that sentenced Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht to life in prison, fervent debate about the ruling quickly spread online.

AccessTimeIconMay 30, 2015 at 5:16 p.m. UTC
Updated Apr 10, 2024 at 3:09 a.m. UTC

Ross Ulbricht

, the convicted founder and operator of online black market Silk Road, was sentenced to life in prison yesterday after being found guilty of narcotics and computer hacking charges in February.

The severity of the sentencing quickly set off a firestorm of comment and criticism, with debates centering on the alleged hypocrisy of the federal government and the morality of its handling of illicit Internet crime in context of its actions against the traditional financial sector.

Such criticisms, however, were interspersed with live drama, as standing outside of a New York courthouse, Lyn Ulbricht voiced concern for her son Ross Ulbricht’s safety as he heads to maximum security prison.

“I fear for his safety,” she said, according to footage of the press conference. “I fear for his life.”

Lyn Ulbricht added that a medium-security prison, in her opinion, would be more appropriate given his behavior since his arrest in late 2013, but acknowledged that “with his sentence, I don’t know if that can be possible".

During her comments, Ulbricht criticized the government for keeping Silk Road open, suggesting that federal officials should share the blame for deaths said to be tied to the dark market’s operation.

She told reporters:

“Two of those overdose deaths happened while the government had the server. They owned and controlled it, and they kept it open, open for business, and those two deaths happened. And by their logic, are they liable as well?”

Ulbricht went on to criticize the fact that some information remains under seal regarding the indictment of two federal agents accused of going rogue during the US government's investigation of Silk Road.

Defense attorney Joshua Dratel also spoke during the press, declaring his disappointment with the outcome and vowing once again to appeal the conviction.

Dratel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter reacts

Even before the sentencing hearing, Twitter was abuzz with thoughts on the then-pending result.

— Roger Ver (@rogerkver) May 26, 2015

— Erik Voorhees (@ErikVoorhees) May 29, 2015

After the sentence was handed down, many observers shared their disappointment with the outcome.

If he was no different than any other drug dealer, why give him life? — Cody R. Wilson (@Radomysisky) May 29, 2015

— Andy Greenberg (@a_greenberg) May 29, 2015

— Bitcoin Error Log (@BitcoinErrorLog) May 29, 2015

Some commentators pointed out how, under US law, some crimes directly related to the death of another person often result in more lenient sentences.

— Dani Gearbench (@DaniGearbench) May 29, 2015

Other comments questioned the alleged hypocrisy of federal prosecutors who demanded a life sentence and millions in ordered payments for Ulbricht's involvement in Silk Road while major banks implicated in multi-billion dollar market rigging schemes have been handed penalties that are significantly less severe.

Some reacted to the sentencing outcome through donations to Ulbricht's defense fund. One donation topped 5 BTC, according to the official Twitter account.

Government celebrates outcome

Shortly after the sentence was announced, representatives in the US government soon took advantage of the occasion to celebrate its successful case against Ulbricht.

In a Justice Department press release, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara described Ulbricht as "the face of cybercrime" and lauded the outcome of the trial, stating:

“Make no mistake: Ulbricht was a drug dealer and criminal profiteer who exploited people’s addictions and contributed to the deaths of at least six young people. Ulbricht went from hiding his cybercrime identity to becoming the face of cybercrime and as today’s sentence proves, no one is above the law.”

According to a statement attributed to US Distric Judge Katherine Forrest, the trial proves that "all stand equal before the law".

"There must be no doubt that you cannot run a massive criminal enterprise and because it occurred over the Internet minimize the crime committed on that basis," she noted.

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