The Drug Policy Alliance has filed an amicus brief urging the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to reduce the harsh life without parole sentence imposed on Ross Ulbricht, who was convicted of operating the Silk Road website.
“We have learned from 40 plus years of the failed war on drugs that incarceration does not prevent drug use or sales,” said Nancy Gertner, Retired Federal Judge and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Law “Even if it did, there is absolutely no evidence that a life sentence, including life without parole, is any more effective at deterring crime than a shorter sentence would be.”
“Life without parole sentences are typically reserved for individuals who have committed extremely violent crimes,” said Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “In this context, Mr. Ulbricht’s sentence is so rare and severe that it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.”
“Mr. Ulbricht’s draconian sentence flies in the face of evolving standards of decency,” said Jolene Forman, Staff Attorney at the Office of Legal Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and lead author of the brief. “Nationally, lawmakers are working across the political aisle to reduce harsh sentences for drug offenses. And, many of our allies in Europe consider life without parole sentences inhumane.”
Amici argue, “After decades of harsh federal sentencing guidelines for drug offenses that have not resulted in positive public policy impacts – such as reduced drug use or drug related activity – and high costs borne by society and individuals, lawmakers are moving to reform harsh sentences for federal drug convictions like Mr. Ulbricht’s.”
In addition to being out of step with public opinion, amici argue that Ulbricht’s sentence is excessive for a drug conviction. Nationally, sentences for drug trafficking are approximately 5 to 6.3 years. Ulbricht’s sentence is grossly disproportionate to the sentences others convicted of drug trafficking crimes normally receive across the country.