Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison by United States District Court Judge Katherine Forrest who had the temerity to say to Ulbricht, as she imposed the judgment, “I don’t think you know that you hurt a lot of people.”
Forrest, appointed by President Obama in 2011, probably doesn’t know just how she has and will soon “hurt a lot of people” as she begins imposing outrageous federal sentences.
It’s not that Ulbricht shouldn’t have been punished. It’s just that the punishment so far outstrips the crimes, and makes a mockery of the right to a trial. When he could’ve received a mandatory minimum of 20 years, but is sentenced to life in prison… what does one say? It’s so outrageous.
What did Ulbricht do? He ran an underground drug market. Judge Forrest called it “an assault on the public health of our communities” by making it easy for people around the world to buy illegal drugs. That horror did apparently could not be corrected by a 20 year sentence.
When people plead guilty – that is, when they agree to forego their rights to a jury trial – they have a colloquy with a judge who asks them various questions, including whether the plea is their informed choice, freely taken, without coercion.
What is coercion though? When you’re being offered a two decade life sentence, but could face life if you go to trial? Are you truly able to exercise your trial rights?
What does it actually mean to take a plea, and then say you weren’t coerced, when that’s the offer on hand?