"Ross Ulbricht, the convicted founder of Silk Road, has been sentenced to life in prison for running the underground online drug bazaar, signaling the government's seriousness in combating Internet crimes." - Nicole Hong, The Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2015. Here is the article.
No question, given the relatively short time Silk Road was operating and that Ulbricht is only 31, the sentence is harsh. His lawyer, Joshua Dratel, indicated he would appeal both it and the conviction. In time, the aggressiveness of law enforcement and the mindset of the judicial branch may change.
But currently, the prosecution and U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest meant to be as severe as possible. The minimum sentence was 20 years. One motivation is to deter other digital wiseguys from putting together a similar scheme.
However, that's the major issue here: Can such a lucrative operation, which demands extreme cleverness, be deterred? After all, the American Mafia was not supposed to deal in drugs. But the opportunity was too lucrative. And drugs became standard on the crime menu.
Perhaps it's only ordinary people who are truly deterred by the law-enforcement consequences of illegal behavior. Those with unusual criminal minds, daring and love of money don't seem preoccupied with worrying about getting caught and what could be next after that.
My hunch is that in about five years Ulbricht's sentence will be reduced. There may even be a new trial.