Silk Road Prosecution Attacks First Amendment and Jury

Trial by jury and freedom of speech are both supposed to be protected in the United States.

Scales of Justice

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the news, “Silk Road” was the name of an internet hub that sold prohibited goods, mainly various drugs. It was kind of a Millennium Falcon on the world wide web. The Han Solo behind it was Ross Ulbricht. He has now been caught and is facing charges.

I don’t think it is right to disregard drug laws except perhaps in case of medical necessity. I’m not sure how Silk Road operated or how exactly Ulbricht was responsible for what happened through the service. I do not advocate that the jury find him “not guilty” based on what little I know about him.

But I do know that the jury is supposed to decide the case and I do know that Ross Ulbricht and his attorney have the First-Amendment-recognized right of free speech. So even if Ulbricht belongs in jail his speech should not be censored—especially not at his trial.

But that is exactly what the prosecutor wants, according to the Daily Dot:

Prosecutors in the case against alleged Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht want the court to prohibit Ulbricht from saying almost anything political at all, according to a motion filed last week by the government.

They’re worried that the jury might end up sympathizing with Ulbricht’s politics.

U.S. attorney Preet Bharara believes that Ulbricht’s defense team wants to bring up his “views concerning the propriety of U.S. or international drug laws or the propriety of government regulation of individual conduct or commerce on the Internet” in order to convince the jury to excuse his alleged criminal behavior.

Ulbricht’s political views are “plainly not relevant,” prosecutors say, adding that they would “serve only to invite jury nullification and should therefore be excluded” and they “cannot form the basis for a legal defense.”

Again, I am not in favor of the jury returning a “not guilty” verdict. But it is sickening to see a prosecutor openly attacking jury nullification in this country without fear of being ruled unfit for office. Jury nullification is an essential part of the Western legal tradition. It is, in fact, the reason why we have juries in the first place. From the time of the Magna Carta juries were always used as a check on state power, not merely on the claims made about the facts, but also a check on the law itself.

Whether or not Ulbricht’s political views are “relevant” is a decision the jury should make for themselves. It is a crime that the prosecutor can gag an accused man from speaking in his own defense.