Post written by Samantha Miller, J.D. expected 2017
In late May, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York sentenced Ross Ulbricht to life imprisonment for his involvement in running the Silk Road website, which allowed people to anonymously buy and sell drugs, counterfeit money, and other illicit items. Ulbricht allegedly had help operating the website from others including Gary Davis, an Irish citizen. The United States has sought his extradition from Ireland. Davis, however, suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and depression. An Irish court is now considering whether Davis, given his disabilities, would face prison conditions, if extradited to the US, that would lead to inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Article 3 of the ECHR states that “No one shall be subjected … to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (emphasis added). If Davis can show that his imprisonment in the US would violate Article 3 of the ECHR, then his extradition would be barred, and he would not have to stand trial in the US. In Aswat v. the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held in 2013 that Aswat’s extradition would amount to the inhuman and degrading treatment that is prohibited by Article 3. If extradited, Aswat was likely to be imprisoned at U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility at Florence, Colorado, a supermax prison. The ECtHR reasoned that given Aswat’s severe paranoid schizophrenia, the harsh prison conditions at the supermax prison would constitute inhuman and degrading treatment. Therefore, the Court barred Aswat’s extradition to the US. (Subsequently, however, the US gave assurances about the prison conditions in which Aswat would be held, the ECtHR found that these assurance to be sufficient enough to allow extradition, and the UK extradited him.)
Davis’s case is distinguishable from Aswat’s case. Unlike Aswat, Davis is free on bond, he has not been institutionalized in a mental health hospital, and little evidence has been offered to show the severity of Davis’s mental illness. Furthermore, Davis’s attorney stated that Davis was likely to be held in a medium security prison in the US rather than in a supermax. Davis’s counsel still claims that that the conditions in the prison could cause a significant decline in Davis’s mental health. The hearing is scheduled to resume in October. However, given the state of the case now, if the Irish court were to hold that Davis’s extradition violates Article 3, then the court would be lowering the standards for inhuman and degrading treatment, because Davis’s mental condition and the prison condition that Davis would face in the US does not appear to be as severe as the ones that Aswat would have faced if he had been extradited to the US.
So the question that one must ask, is whether having a mental illness makes imprisonment within a medium security prison contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, barring extradition to one of the oldest and greatest democracies with a generally good human rights record?
- Aodhan O’Faolain, US Seeking Extradition of Alleged Silk Road Website Administrator, Irish Times, (July 15, 2015).
- Aswat v. the United Kingdom, App. No. 17299/12 Eur. Ct. H.R. (2013).
- Aswat v. the United Kingdom, App. No. 62176/14 Eur. Ct. H.R. (2015).
- Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms art. 3, Nov. 4, 1950, C.E.T.S. No. 005.
- Kate Vinton, Silk Road Creator Ross Ulbricht Appeals Life Sentence, Forbes, (June 5, 2015).
- Nate Raymond, Silk Road Drug Site Staff Member Avoids Further U.S. Prison Time, Reuters, (May 26, 2015).
- Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York, Ross Ulbricht, aka Dread Pirate Roberts, Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to Life in Prison, (May 29, 2015) (on file with FBI online).
- Wicklow Man Opposing Extradition to US over Silk Road Charges, RTE News, (July 14, 2015).