Robert Bianchi appeared on Fox News to discuss the Silk Road Case. Bianchi gives his insight on the mastermind convicted on all seven charges of operating an online drug marketplace under alias “Dread Pirate Roberts”.
By Robert A Bianchi Esq.: The internet is a fascinating and wonderful tool. But, it also has a dark side. Computer crimes are on the forefront of many criminal justice cases, and today, there are more and more law enforcement officials that are experts in computer crime cases. Hence, it is imperative that criminal defense attorneys have significant knowledge of how computer crimes cases are investigated and prosecuted in order to properly represent their clients who have been charged with any criminal offense that involves the use of a computer.
As former New Jersey Prosecutors and now New Jersey criminal Defense Attorneys, we have handled numerous cases and trials where forensic computer crime experts have investigated and testified in court to prove, or disprove, a criminal case.
In the Silk Road case, the defendant was convicted of using bitcoin as a currency on a computer platform he offered to people and that allowed them to exchange bitcoin for illegal services. The defendant made a staggering amount of money through his website. Basically, the defendant set up a computer marketplace where illegal items were sold using the bitcoin currency. Each time a transaction was completed, the defendant received a percentage portion of the value of that transaction. He provided the platform where the vendor and consumer interested in illegal products could conduct business by acting as a middleman only in the sense that he maintained the computers and website that allowed for such illegal transactions to occur.
Computer crimes cases are defensible, however. The most obvious problem for the prosecution is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt who was the actual person that is using the computer that is identified as the one that was used for the illegal activity. It is a fact that there have been cases where it appeared that a computer was used by one person, but in reality, the computer was “hacked” or used by someone other than the owner and made to look like it was the person who owned the computer. Criminal defense attorneys need to be aware of the training law enforcement is provided, rules of engagement, laws, and computer crime protocols to properly represent a criminal defendant who is charged with a computer crime or one where computers are being used as evidence in a case.
In the Silk Road case, the evidence was compelling. They literally caught the defendant at a public library (suggesting he was in a public venue to hide the internet access point), with a computer that had on it evidence showing that it was being used illegally. Further, and perhaps more importantly, was a journal that defendant kept on his computer that became compelling evidence against him. In it, he speaks of a girl he met and explains how he wants to tell her about his illegal activity but doesn’t know how to bring it up to her. This is compelling common sense evidence of guilt and one that is certain to have influenced the jury greatly.
This defendant also has charges in another state that allege he attempted to use bitcoin to solicit someone to kill a person he felt would expose his illegal actions. That indictment is still pending trial.
The practical effect of all of this is obvious to any experienced criminal defense lawyer. The defendant has now been convicted of offenses that may put him in jail for decades at the time of sentencing. He is facing additional charges that could also put him in jail for decades should he be convicted. Given this, it is likely that his criminal defense attorney will attempt to strike a plea deal with the prosecutors in both states to see if he can work out a “global” resolution for a lower sentence and end both legal matters. But, it is unlikely now that the government has secured this conviction that any offer they will tender will not envision many years in prison. This conviction has put the government in a powerful negotiation position. If a deal cannot be struck that is acceptable to both sides, this conviction will be appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals and he faces yet another trial for the hire for murder indictment that is pending.
As former New Jersey Prosecutors and now New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have handled many computer crimes cases. In today’s world, there is hardly any case that does not involve at least some computer forensics. Hence, lawyers have to be savvy to the many issues computer crime cases present, in order to adequately represent their clients. And, it is imperative that any criminal defense lawyer have significant knowledge of the training that the police and prosecutors receive in order to properly defend a client charged with a crime that involves the use of any computer.