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Above the Law – FBI’s Case Against Silk Road Boss Is A Fascinating Read

It’s been known for quite some time that the feds were desperately trying to hunt down the folks behind Silk Road, the somewhat infamous “dark web” e-commerce site, accessible only via Tor, which was famous mainly for selling drugs in a slightly anonymous fashion. Of course, when the news came out recently that the FBI had used malware to reveal Tor Browser users, many believed that this was part of an attempt to track down Silk Road, and that seems increasingly likely after the FBI announced this morning that it has arrested Silk Road’s owner, Ross William Ulbricht, who went by the moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts” online. Turns out that Ulbricht was based in San Francisco and was arrested at the public library, of all places….The case against him (pdf) is interesting, because beyond just going after him for helping to distribute illegal drugs, they claim that he solicited a Silk Road user in a murder-for-hire request (though he’s not charged with that), to potentially go after a different Silk Road user who was threatening to reveal the identities of people on the site (the user claimed to have hacked a large vendor’s account, and demanded $500,000 to not reveal names). They also go after him (of course) with a CFAA violation claim and a money laundering claim. Of course, we’ve seen the DOJ inflate and pile on charges against people in the past, so it will be worth watching to see what details come out of this — but soliciting a murder, if true, seems like a fairly big deal.

In addition, the complaint against him claims that Silk Road generated 9.5 million Bitcoins in revenue, leading to 600,000 Bitcoins in commissions (or roughly $1.2 billion in sales and $79.8 million in commissions). Of course, that seems noticeably higher than previous research had suggested. It also notes that the FBI itself made over 100 purchases on Silk Road — including ecstasy, cocaine, heroin, LSD and others. Apparently, they wanted a lot of evidence. And, in case you were wondering, the FBI informs us that their orders “have typically shown high purity levels of the drug the item was advertised to be on Silk Road.”

While the details in the complaint seem pretty thorough, there are some tidbits that stand out as questionable. The complaint clearly states that Bitcoin and Tor are both legal and have legitimate purposes, but it also says that Silk Road’s use of proxies to “hide the identities of those that run Silk Road… reflect his awareness of the illegal nature of the Silk Road enterprise.” I don’t quite see how wanting to be anonymous automatically suggests that you’re engaged in illegal behavior. Later in the complaint, the FBI agent spends an awful lot of time talking about how Ulbricht was interested in the Mises Institute, the well-known libertarian think tank. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. The FBI notes that Dread Pirate Roberts’ defense of Silk Road included quoting Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard (two economists closely associated with the Mises Institute), but lots of people follow the Mises Institute, so that seems like a stretch.

Another questionable tidbit: the FBI notes that Ulbricht posted a question to Stack Overflow using his real name, but “less than one minute later, Ulbricht changed his username at Stack Overflow from ‘Ross Ulbricht’ to ‘frosty.’” and then the FBI agent noted “I know that criminals seeking to hide their identity online will often use pseudononymous usernames to conceal their identity.” Later, after Ulbricht changes the email on the account to frosty@frosty.com — an invalid email address — the FBI agent similarly notes that “criminals seeking to hide their identity online will often use fictitious e-mail addresses.” Well, yes, but the same is true of people with perfectly legitimate reasons to be anonymous, or those who don’t want spam. While there does appear to be plenty of actual evidence, the use of these tidbits seems highly questionable.

The whole extortion/murder for hire story is a bit crazy. As noted above, one user contacted Dread Pirate Roberts, claiming to have hacked another vendor and obtained the details of users, which he’d release if not given $500,000 to pay off another drug supplier. Ulbricht asked the guy who was threatening him, a user who went by the name FriendlyChemist, to put him in touch with that supplier. After FriendlyChemist did so, Ulbricht used the opportunity to try to get that supplier to sell drugs via Silk Road. There was a further discussion, and when FriendlyChemist started getting anxious, the complaint says Ulbricht asked FriendlyChemist’s supplier how much “would be an adequate amount” in order to “put a bounty on his head.” After being quoted a price of $150,000 to $300,000 (rate dependent on “clean” or “not clean”) Ulbricht allegedly complained that the price was high, and noted that he’d previously hired someone to kill someone for $80,000. They eventually agreed to a price of $150,000 (16710 Bitcoins), and Ulbricht was told that the job was done: “Your problem has been taken care of. . . . Rest easy though, because he won’t be blackmailing anyone again. Ever.” Apparently a photo was supplied. The FBI notes that while this supposedly happened in Canada, Canadian law enforcement says that it didn’t happen.

The complaint also notes that Ulbricht has a LinkedIn page which includes a bit of a rant about “using economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind.” It also notes “I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.” Not sure how one squares that with trying to hire someone to commit murder, but we’ll let others debate that.

It appears that while Ulbricht was mostly careful to cover his tracks, he wasn’t always that careful. The complaint notes that Silk Road was first advertised on different forums by a user named “altoid,” in a manner that indicated altoid was connected with the site. Months later, altoid also posted elsewhere that he was looking to hire an “IT pro in the Bitcoin community” for “a venture backed Bitcoin startup company” — but then told interested people to contact him at his actual gmail address: rossulbricht@gmail.com. And, voila, the FBI had a name. Also, later, when Homeland Security officials intercepted a package that contained a bunch of fake IDs for Ulbricht, they showed up at his home in July. While he generally refused to answer questions, he did tell them that “‘hypothetically’ anyone could go onto a website named ‘Silk Road’ on ‘Tor’ and purchase any drugs or fake identity documents….” There was also the above mentioned Stack Overflow account, which (briefly) used his real name and email address, which indicated that he was working on a Tor hidden service, and posted some code that (in a modified form) was also found on Silk Road.

All in all, there does seem to be a fairly compelling case built against Ulbricht based on this (though, again, we’ve seen in previous DOJ cases where things aren’t always as they seem). At a first glance, they have a lot of evidence on him. However, some questions do remain. At the beginning of the post, we mentioned the whole thing where the FBI was using malware to identify Tor users… but, of course, that doesn’t show up anywhere in the complaint. Instead, the big “breakthrough” was when a “random border search” by DHS turned up those fake identities intended for Ulbricht. However, as Parker Higgins notes, it seems like this could be a case of “parallel construction” whereby the hacking revealed those details, and DHS was then tipped off to check packages sent to Ulbricht, seeking to create “parallel construction” of evidence, in order to launder the fact that the FBI had hacked its way into identifying Tor users. After all, we’d just reported on how the FBI was actively trying to avoid revealing its hacking/malware powers to technologically sophisticated individuals.

Either way, we’re sure that there will be plenty more news on this case.

The whole sealed complaint is available on the next page…

Alabama’s Self Defense Law and Stand Your Ground Law

With the trial and then verdict in the case of George Zimmerman there has been a lot of discussions about the law of Self Defense.

In Alabama the Self Defense law has been modified to give people more rights to protect themselves, their home and other people.  We have a “Stand Your Ground” provision in the law. The provision states that “ is legally presumed to be justified in using deadly physical force in self-defense or the defense of another person… ”  the criteria is listed in the law below.  The law goes even further and states “a person who uses force, including deadly physical force, as justified and permitted in this section is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the force was determined to be unlawful.

Presumption and immunity are a strong words and are a strong defense if every charged with a crime or sued, but the law has carved out several areas that the presumption and immunity are lost.

They are:

The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner or lessee, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person;

The person sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used

The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity;

The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her official duties;

The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner or lessee, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person;

The person sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used;

The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or

The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her official duties.

This law is very strong if determined the use of force was justifiable, but that does not mean a person will not be charges with a crime, just gives the person a strong defense. You will need to get a lawyer who will aggressively use the law before it gets to the trial stage.  I have had several case where a client was charged, but by invoking the law, the charges were either dropped or did not come out of the grand jury.

Know the law, know your rights and make sure you hire an aggressive attorney if you find yourself in this situation.

13A-3-23. Self-defense — Defense of others.

  • (a)  A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose. A person may use deadly physical force, and is legally presumed to be justified in using deadly physical force in self-defense or the defense of another person pursuant to subdivision (4), if the person reasonably believes that another person is:
    • (1)  Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force.
    • (2)  Using or about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling while committing or attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling.
    • (3)  Committing or about to commit a kidnapping in any degree, assault in the first or second degree, burglary in any degree, robbery in any degree, forcible rape or forcible sodomy.
    • (4)  In the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is in the process of sabotaging or attempting to sabotage a federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is attempting to remove, or has forcefully removed, a person against his or her will from any dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle when the person has a legal right to be there, and provided that the person using the deadly physical force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring. The legal presumption that a person using deadly physical force is justified to do so pursuant to this subdivision does not apply if:
      • a.  The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner or lessee, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person;
      • b.  The person sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used;
      • c.  The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity; or
      • d.  The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her official duties.
  • (b)  A person who is justified under subsection (a) in using physical force, including deadly physical force, and who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in any place where he or she has the right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.
  • (c)  Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), a person is not justified in using physical force if:
    • (1)  With intent to cause physical injury or death to another person, he or she provoked the use of unlawful physical force by such other person.
    • (2)  He or she was the initial aggressor, except that his or her use of physical force upon another person under the circumstances is justifiable if he or she withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to the other person his or her intent to do so, but the latter person nevertheless continues or threatens the use of unlawful physical force.
    • (3)  The physical force involved was the product of a combat by agreement not specifically authorized by law.
  • (d)  A person who uses force, including deadly physical force, as justified and permitted in this section is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the force was determined to be unlawful.
  • (e)  A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force described in subsection (a), but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force used was unlawful.

From James Kirk Piccone – Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Not Talk to the Police

REASON #1: Talking to the police CANNOT help you.

If the police are talking to you, it’s because they suspect you have committed a crime. If they have detained you, it’s because they already have enough evidence to arrest you and they want to see if you will admit it and thus, give them an even stronger case against you.

If they have evidence to arrest you for a crime, they will. If they don’t, they won’t. It’s as simple as that.

Talking to them or not talking to them won’t make a difference! No one has ever “talked his way out of” an arrest. If the police have enough evidence to arrest, they will. If you deny that you committed the crime, they will not believe you. They already have evidence suggesting that you committed the crime. They’ll assume you’re just doing what every criminal does in denying the offense. It will not prevent you from getting arrested.

This is completely contrary to popular belief. For some reason, many people think that they are savvy enough
or eloquent enough or well educated enough to be able to talk to the police and convince the police not to arrest them. But ask any police officer if because of the eloquence and convincing story of the suspect, they have ever been convinced not to arrest somebody whom they had originally intended to arrest, and they will tell you no. They will tell you that in their experience, no one has ever talked themselves out of getting arrested. Talking to the police cannot help you. It cannot prevent you from getting arrested. It can only hurt.

REASON #2: Even if you’re guilty, and you want to confess and get it off your chest, you still shouldn’t talk to the police.

People plead guilty in America every day. Probably over 90% of defendants in state court plead guilty at some point during their case. There is plenty of time to confess and admit guilt at a later stage of the proceedings. What’s the rush? Get a lawyer first. Let the lawyer set up a deal whereby you get something in exchange for accepting responsibility for the offense. A better plea bargain, or maybe even immunity. If you confess to the police, you get nothing in return. Zero. In fact, you probably get a harsher prosecution because the state’s case is now airtight, now that you have confessed.

REASON #3: Even if you are innocent, it’s easy to tell some little white lie in the course of a statement.

This kind of thing happens all the time. A person who is completely innocent and who is trying to vehemently assert their innocence will go overboard and take it a little bit too far and deny some insignificant fact, tell some little white lie, because they want to sound as innocent as possible. But if the police have evidence of that lie, it makes your entire statement look like a lie. The prosecutor will ask: “Why did he lie to the police? Why indeed would he lie to the police, unless he were guilty?”

That little white lie could be used to destroy your
credibility at trial.

An example would be a man who is questioned about a murder. He wants to sound innocent. He wants to sound non-violent. He is, in fact, innocent. So he denies everything. He denies the killing. He denies being in the area where the killing occurred on the night that it occurred. He denies owning a gun, and denies that he has ever owned a gun in his whole life. But it Turns out that this last statement is not true, And the police can prove it. He did at one time during his life own a gun. Now he has told a lie and the police have caught him and things will only go downhill from there. Although he is innocent of the murder, he has told a lie that will be used to destroy his credibility at trial and could be the cause of his conviction.

REASON #4: Even if you are innocent, and you only tell the truth, and you don’t tell any little white lies, it is possible to give the police some detail of information that can be used to convict you.

For example, a suspect is being questioned about a murder. He is truly innocent of the murder. But in the course of explaining his innocence, he makes the statement that he never liked the victim, because the victim was not a nice guy. A statement like that could be used to prove motive.

Or in the course of the statement, the suspect might admit that he was in the area of town where the murder was committed at the time it was committed. Although he’s innocent and although this statement is true, the prosecutor could use that statement to suggest that the suspect had the opportunity to commit the crime, which looks very bad in front of a jury.

REASON #5: Even if you were innocent, and you only tell the truth, and you don’t tell any little white lies, and you don’t give the police any information that can be used against you to prove motive or opportunity, you still should not talk to the police because the possibility that the police might not recall your statement with 100% accuracy.

What if the police officer remembers something wrong? What if he remembers you said “X” when actually you said “Y”? If the police officer takes the witness stand and contradicts your statements at trial, it will kill your credibility. You can take the witness stand and say “I never said that!” But it’s your word versus a police officer. Who’s the jury going to believe? Who will the jury assume is lying to save his own skin? Who will the jury believe is lying because he’s really guilty? You guessed it. YOU!

REASON #6: Even if you’re innocent, and you only tell the truth, and your entire statement is videotaped so that the police don’t have to rely on their memory, an innocent person can still make some innocent assumption about a fact or state some detail about the case they overheard on the way to the police station, and the police will assume that they only way the suspect could have known that fact or that detail was if he was, in fact, guilty.

Example: Suppose a police officer is questioning A suspect about a homicide. And the suspect makes the statement “I don’t know who killed the victim. I’ve never owned a gun in my life. I don’t even like guns.” On it’s face, there’s nothing incriminating about that statement. But suppose at trial, the prosecutor asks the police officer if anything about that statement surprised him. The police officer answers “Yes, it surprised me when the suspect mentioned a gun, because I had never mentioned a gun before that. I merely told him that I was investigating a homicide.”

When the officer said there has been a homicide, the suspect may have simply assumed that the killing was done with a gun. Or the suspect may have overheard in the police station some other officer talk about the fact that it was a shooting. But if the officer taking the statement had never mentioned a gun or a shooting, and the suspect makes the statement that he had never owned a gun, you give the prosecution the opportunity to create some high drama, suggesting that suspect has had a Freudian slip, and has made a statement about a gun because he is, in fact, the murderer. And as the murderer, he knew that a gun was used.

REASON #7: Even if you’re innocent, and you only tell the truth in your statement, and you give the police no information that can be used against you, and the whole statement is videotaped, a suspect’s answers can still be used against him if the police (through no fault of their own) have any evidence that any of the suspect’s statements are false (even if they are really true).

Suppose the police have a statement from a witness who claims to have seen the suspect in the area where the crime was committed at the time of the incident. Suppose further that this witness is actually wrong, but has made an honest mistake. The suspect then gives a statement to the police in which he says he was nowhere near the area where the crime took place at the time of the incident. By giving the statement, the suspect has now created a conflict between his own statement and the statement of this witness. By itself, the statement of the witness that he or she saw the suspect in the area at the time the crime was committed is not that useful. But by giving this statement, and creating a conflict with this witness’s statement, the suspect has now made this relatively minor witness into the government’s star witness.

The jury will hear the conflict and will assume that the suspect is lying and wonder why.

So even if you tell the complete truth, you’re putting your cards on the table without first seeing what evidence the government has. And if the government has some bit of evidence which, through some honest mistake, contradicts part of your story, you set yourself up to be portrayed as a liar by giving a statement without first knowing what evidence the government has.

REASON #8: The police do not have authority to make deals or grant a suspect leniency in exchange for getting as statement.

People tell me all the time that they gave a statement to the police because the police told them that they would be better off if they confessed, better off if they admitted what they did wrong, better off if they cooperated. The police will make vague statements that things will go easier on the suspect if he simply admits what he did wrong. The police will also make vague statements suggesting that they will do what they can to help the suspect, that they will put in a good word for the suspect, if the suspect will just come clean.

Number One thing to remember: The police do not have authority to make deals, grant immunity, or negotiate plea agreements. The only entity with that authority is the District Attorney in state court and the U.S. Attorney in federal court. Despite their claim that they are trying to help you, the only help police are providing when they take your statement is giving you rope with which to hang yourself.

REASON #9: Even if a suspect is guilty, and wants to confess, there may be mitigating factors which justify a lesser charge.

Mitigating factors are rarely brought out by the police in an interview. Normally, police want to focus on the facts that will suggest the suspect has committed the most severe crime possible. In fact, the suspect may have committed a lesser grade of offense. And if given the opportunity to talk to an attorney first, the attorney may be able to explain to the suspect what facts are important in establishing that he is guilty of a lesser grade of an offense, and not a higher grade. A confession presented in this context to the District Attorney’s office might result in a lesser charge and a more appropriate and fair penalty.

REASON #10: Even for a completely honest and innocent person, it is difficult to tell the same story twice in exactly the same way.

If you tell your story one time at trial and you tell the truth and you’re innocent, there’s very little the prosecutor can do by way of cross examination. But if you’ve told your story twice, once at trial, and once previously in a statement to the police, many months apart, the chances are very high that, even if you are telling the truth, some little details in your statement are going to change.

A good cross examiner will pick up on these changes and will relentlessly question you about them in an effort to make it look like you are lying.

So for all these reasons, whether you are guilty or innocent, whether you want to confess or want to exonerate yourself, whether you’re poorly educated or the most eloquent speaker in the world, you should NEVER, EVER, under any circumstances, give a statement to the police when you have been detained as a suspect.

Note: Credit for some of the Top Ten Reasons goes to Professor Dwayne at Regent University Law
School.

– See more at: http://www.kirkpiccione.com/10-reasons-not-talk-police/#sthash.uUDp9S3m.dpuf

Why you need to know your rights

As this case brought to us by the Fourth Amendment Blog reminds us, the police know the rules about people’s rights and most people do not.  Mirandia only applies when a person is in custody or reasonably believes that they are in custody.  It does not usually apply when law enforcement is just interviewing a person during their investigation.  So know your rights before interacting with law enforcement.

OH3: Defendant not in custody when he consented to DNA sample

Defendant was not yet in custody when he was Mirandized and lawyered up. Then the officer asked for and got consent for a DNA sample. “Frazier knew he was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time. We also cannot find any sign that law enforcement’s actions were so coercive that Frazier’s will was overborn.” Defendant wasn’t in custody so that did not violate the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. State v. Frazier, 2013 Ohio 142, 2013 Ohio App. LEXIS 115 (3d Dist. January 22, 2013).*

What to do if you are accused of a crime

What to do if you are accused of a crime

It is imperative that you get legal counsel immediately. The Miranda warning is read to you for a reason and you should heed what it says. Regardless of what has been told to you there is no reason that you should give up the rights that our forefathers put in America’s Bill of Rights. There is no circumstances that would force you to waive your rights.

If asked whether or not a police agent or other law enforcement agent can search your house, office, or possession it is your right to talk with an attorney.  Do not take the police officer’s word about what is okay or not okay for you to do or say.

Call an attorney immediately, if you cannot call an attorney ask someone to call one for you.
Remember even if you cannot afford an attorney the state should provide you with one, but you have to ask for one.

These are some suggestions that you should remember of you are a suspect in a crime.

  1. Ask for your attorney immediately and state that you cannot answer any questions until you talked with your attorney.
  2. If you cannot afford an attorney ask that one be appointed immediately and do not answer any questions until you have talked with that attorney.
  3. Do not answer any questions until your attorney is present with you.
  4. Follow your attorney’s advice.