Wednesday 25 April 2018

High Court orders extradition of Irishman to the US to face 'Silk Road' charges

Gary Davis pictured at the Four Courts. Pic: Courts Collins
Gary Davis pictured at the Four Courts. Pic: Courts Collins

Aodhan O Faolain

The High Court has ordered the extradition to the United States of a Wicklow man alleged to have been an administrator of the Silk Road website that dealt with illegal drugs and hacking software.

Gary Davis, aged 27, of Johnstown Court, Kilpedder, Co Wicklow, is wanted for trial by US authorities on charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, conspiracy to commit computer hacking and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Mr Justice Paul McDermott in a detailed judgment on Friday ruled that Mr Davis be surrendered to the US.

The judge rejected all grounds of Mr Davis’s opposition to the request including that his Constitutional rights and rights under the European Convention on Human Rights would be breached.

After the verdict Davis embraced friends and family in the court.  He was remanded in custody to Cloverhill Prison and can apply for bail in the event an appeal being lodged.

Davis, who claims he suffers from a form of autism known as Asperger's Syndrome and depression, had opposed the request. Among his points of objection he says that if extradited he will be detained in an inhuman and degrading manner.

If convicted in the US Mr Davis could receive a life sentence.

Davis also claimed the extradition request was flawed, lacked clarity and the details of the charges against him were vague. It was also argued Davis should have been charged with corresponding offences he is accused of by the US in Ireland.

In his judgment Mr Justice McDermott said the central issue in the case was the objections to the request based on Mr Davis's health. The evidence before the court, the Judge said, did not establish the high threshold of ill health and risk to life required to justify a refusal to extradite him.

He said it was not the law that a person suffering from health conditions could not  be imprisoned in Ireland or extradited to another country simply because imprisonment would give rise to changes in environment or disturbance in routine or removal from family.

Persons suffering from Aspergers could be tried and sentenced for a criminal offence in Ireland and the courts had imposed sentences on elderly persons, young people with serious psychological or addiction problems and people who were otherwise ill.  

Judge McDermott said Mr Davis had argued that if surrendered to the US he would not be able to cope because he has Aspergers, depression and severe anxiety.  He had claimed he would commit suicide in those circumstances.

The judge said this assertion was something that must be regarded as "a manifestation of Mr Davis's illness" which may be taken into account should he receive a custodial sentence. It was not something that could stop a trial, and needed to be managed by prison authorities.

Judge McDermott said he was not satisfied that there were substantial grounds for believing that Mr Davis would be exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment while detained in the US prison system.

The court was satisfied that the US authorities would act to protect Mr Davis's mental and physical well being and take appropriate steps to address any symptoms of depression and anxiety. He would be accommodated as person with AS within the prison system.

In his ruling the Judge noted the concerns expressed by Mr Davis about conditions at the facility in New York City, known as the Metropolitan Correctional Centre (MCC), where Mr Davis was likely to be held following his extradition.

Mr Davis had claimed because of his medical condition his mental health would deteriorate and his life would be at risk if he were to be held in isolation at a special housing unit within the MCC.

Judge McDermott told barrister Remy Farrell, S.C., counsel for the State, that there was a heavy burden on prison officials to assess and monitor those prisoners who were at risk of self harm. The court was satisfied that procedures were in place for the evaluation, treatment and assessment of persons arriving at MCC in respect of their mental health.

He said that while there was "undoubtedly a great deal to criticise in the penal system of the United States as there is in the Irish system" he was satisfied that during any pre-trial detention of Mr Davis "reasonable and adequate provision” for his problems would be made.

The Judge also expressed his concern that Mr Davis was not in receipt of any ongoing medical provision or treatment for depression and that he had failed to engage with people who could provide therapy. 

The Silk Road, which was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2013, was an underground website that hosted a “sprawling black market bazaar” on the internet.

Mr Davis is accused of acting as a site administrator on the Silk Road website using the name ‘Libertas’. It was launched in 2011. It was created and run by American Ross William Ulbricht under the pseudonym 'Dread Pirate Roberts' (DPR). 

Ulbricht had been charged and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.  The site offered anonymity to its users, where trades were conducted in the on-line currency bitcoins.

The US' authorities claim between June 2013 and October 2013 Mr Davis was a site administrator of the Silk Road website and had an "explicit knowledge of the items for sale on the website".

The drugs available on the site included heroin, LSD, cocaine and amphetamines.

It was claimed that as part of his role, Davis dealt with queries from the site users, and had re-organised into different categories certain items that could be purchased on the website.

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