Appellant Claims Lack of Fair Trial, Cites Criminal Activity by Government Agents Investigating Him

Prosecutors are obligated to turn over evidence that could potentially exonerate a defendant in a criminal case. This is known as the Brady rule, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). A federal appellate court recently ruled on a defendant’s claim that the prosecution violated his rights by failing to disclose information about criminal charges against two federal agents for conduct during the investigation of the defendant. The court was harshly critical of the two agents, who each received lengthy prison sentences, but it held that their criminal activity did not affect the reliability of the government’s case against the defendant. United States v. Ulbricht, No. 15-1815, slip op. (2d Cir., May 31, 2017).

The Brady rule arose from a murder prosecution against two defendants. The named defendant, Brady, maintained that the other defendant committed the murder. The prosecution withheld a statement by the other defendant confessing to committing the murder alone. Without that evidence, Brady was convicted. The Supreme Court held that the prosecutors had violated Brady’s rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is now common for defendants to request all “Brady evidence” from prosecutors during criminal cases.

The defendant in Ulbricht was convicted of multiple counts in connection with his operation of an online marketplace known as “Silk Road,” where people could anonymously exchange contraband, such as drugs and false identification documents, using the virtual currency known as Bitcoin. As part of the investigation into Silk Road, law enforcement agents would obtain the cooperation of low-level administrators and then pose as them using their online Silk Road accounts. A Secret Service agent and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent were eventually charged with using this access to the Silk Road system to steal millions of dollars worth of Bitcoins.

Both government agents were convicted of money laundering and obstruction of justice. Each was sentenced to more than 70 months in prison. The court hearing the Ulbricht case barred the defendant from introducing evidence about the Secret Service agent’s case at his trial because the case was still before the grand jury at the time, and the records were therefore under seal. Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e)(6). The defendant stated that he did not know about the case against the DEA agent until after his trial was over.

The defendant argued that he needed the evidence regarding the two agents’ criminal cases “because it would reveal the agents’ ability to falsify evidence against him and demonstrate their motive to do so.” Ulbricht, slip op. at 68. He moved for a new trial under Rule 33, claiming in part that the prosecution violated the Brady rule. The trial court denied the motion.

The appellate court affirmed the verdict and sentence. It found that the prosecution did not violate the Brady rule because the information about the agents was not material to the government’s case against the defendant. The court noted that the defendant’s primary argument about the two agents involved their lack of credibility. The court held, however, that the government did not rely on either agent, or any information or evidence obtained by them, at trial.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

For over two decades, board-certified federal appeals attorney Michael J. Brown has fought for people’s rights against federal and state charges in West Texas courts. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Motion to Vacate Sentence Alleges Fraud by Federal Law Enforcement Seeking to Seize Assets through Forfeiture, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 4, 2016

Defendant in Major Cybercrime Case Sentenced to Life in Prison for Drug Distribution, Hacking, and Money Laundering, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 22, 2015

Federal Prosecutors Charge Alleged Proprietor of Online Marketplace for Illegal Drugs, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 3, 2013


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