A 31-year-old from Texas was recently sentenced to two terms of life in prison and three lesser sentences according to 11 Alive. While one might assume from the severity of the punishment that the man had committed serious and violent crimes, the reality is that he was simply guilty of starting an encrypted electronic website that operated in a hidden area of the Internet. The encrypted electronic website was called Silk Road and it matched buyers and sellers of a variety of different illegal products including drugs, fake IDs and computer hacking programs.

The severity of the sentence shows how seriously the courts and the government are taking computer crimes.  While it may seem difficult to imagine that operating illegal computer programs is an offense worthy of multiple life sentences, the fact is that prosecutors are often aggressive in charging people whose online activities appear to facilitate offline criminal activities. If you are under investigation for computer crimes or have been charged with identity theft or computer fraud, you too could face harsh criminal charges that carry lengthy penalties. You need to get legal help fighting for your freedom if you find yourself in this difficult situation.


Silk Road Creator Sentenced to Prison

Silk Road operated on the “dark net” or in a hidden area of the Internet. All deals done on Silk Road had to be paid for in Bitcoins, which protected the anonymity of users because the currency is electronic and untraceable.

The creator of Silk Road did not testify during his three-week trial, in which he faced federal charges for starting and operating Silk Road. The defense argued that while he was the founder of the site, he had turned it over to others who ran it when illegal activities were going on online.  The defendant was then lured back in to operations to take the fall for the activities when federal investigators began to move in on the operation.

Federal prosecutors argued that the defendant deserved more than the minimum sentence, which was 20-years imprisonment. The charges he faced included operating a continuing criminal enterprise, which carried the minimum 20-year penalty.  The prosecutors provided information on six overdoses that resulted in the deaths of people who had purchased drugs on Silk Road.  Parents of those who died in drug overdoses also provided testimony described as “emotional” during the sentencing phase.

It is important, however, tor remember that the man who created Silk Road and who was sentenced to two life sentences did not actually sell those drugs. All he did was create an online electronic bazaar where people could connect to each other.  Silk Road was described as a “criminal eBay,” and yet the creator was held legally responsible for the sales that were going on between private parties using the website.

The defense also indicated that there was not sufficient evidence actually showing that the deaths in question could be directly linked to drugs purchased on Silk Road.  It can be difficult to trace where a particular drug purchase comes from, and those who bought the drugs on Silk Road and overdosed could also have obtained them elsewhere.

Others involved in Silk Road received much lesser prison sentences, and the sentence of two life terms is going to be appealed.

The outcome of this case shows the importance of developing a strategic defense or negotiating a plea bargain when faced with computer crimes charges.  The Internet should be a place for people to connect freely, and as the defendant in this case said, he wanted to “empower people to make choices in their lives for themselves and have privacy and anonymity.”  Juries and judges, however, do not always embrace the high principles of freedom on the Internet and can impose serious penalties for conviction of online crimes.  If you are charged with an online crime, be sure you have strong representation from a computer crime lawyer who can help you put together the best possible case.