More articles about the Silk road trial at this tag: #SilkRoadTrial
With the start of the Silk Road trial, the news has been flooded with articles from a variety of media organizations with each taking their own respective angles. Some media outlets are taking the angle that the trial is larger than darknet markets but insttheead will set a legal precedent surrounding anonymity and privacy on the Internet. Other outlets are painting Ross Ulbricht, the alleged owner and administrator of Silk Road, as a monster on front lines of the black market. Finally, there is another group that is riding on the coattails of the Silk Road trial and pushing their own agenda: Jury Rights.
The Jury Rights Project is an activist group focusing on educating the public about jury rights, roles, and responsibilities. In relation to the Silk Road trial, they are specifically focusing on the War on Drugs using the angle of “No Victim, No Crime” and utilizing their main weapon: Jury Nullification.
Jury Nullification is when a jury acquits a defendant even though the members of the jury believes the defendant is guilty. The members of the jury would usually utilize Jury Nullification when they do not agree with the law the defendant is charged with or believe that the law should not be applied in that particular case. At first glance, this sounds all well and good for supporters of “No Victim, No Crime,” however, in major cases such as the Silk Road’s, activist movements such as the Jury Rights Project’s can cast a shadow over the defendant.
Now that the Silk Road trial has started, it has been discovered that Ulbricht’s defense is that he did, in fact, create Silk Road, gave it up, then regained control as part of a plan to set him up as “the fall guy.” Since the defense is taking this route of making Ulbricht out to be a victim, the jury’s perception of him is reality. Unfortunately, it seems as if the Jury Rights Project is already impacting the perception of Ulbricht.
On December 22, 2014, the Jury Rights Project started a crowd-funding campaign and raised, according to their blog, a little over $4,000, via IndieGoGo, Reddit, an Bitcoin donations. A week before the start of the trial, they installed Jury Nullification ads in phone booths around New York City and near the Southern District of New York Courthouse where the Silk Road trial is taking place. The advertisements, in combination with activists handing out informational pamphlets, lead to Judge Katherine Forrest alluding to the potential for an anonymous jury.
On Tuesday, during the jury selection process, Judge Forrest asked each juror if they had seen the advertisements and if they had received the Jury Nullification pamphlets. The prosecution and defense attorneys were also cautious to not use the juror’s names and instead substituted their names for numbers. As the Jury Nullification pressures rise and the protests and media coverage continue, Judge Forrest may not have much of a choice other than to utilize an innominate jury
Innominate juries were commonly used during the trials of Mafia members such as Leroy Barnes and John Gotti but has also been used as recently as during the Rodney King trial and in the George Zimmerman trial over the murder of Trayvon Martin. During the Gotti and Barnes trials, the jurors were anonymized to provide protection from the other mafia members that may harm or threaten to harm them if they convict their fellow “family member.”, like we have seen recently. During the King and Zimmerman trials, anonymous juries were used to protect the identity of the jurors and to protect them from any harm, threats of harm, or outside influences, from supporters of either side
Today, with the use of social media, a spark can turn into a wildfire within minutes, therefore, there are fears that jurors can be threatened or persuaded to make a decision on the trial based on outside influences. On the other hand, there are legitimate fears that jurors are more likely to be biased in their decision making if they are not going to be held accountable for their decision in the case. Either way, as anonymous juries become more common, we are setting a dangerous precedent pushing us towards a scenario similar to the 15th Century Star Chamber, a secret court where there were no witnesses, the defendant did not know their accuser, and evidence was only provided in written form.