Prisoners Are Using NFTs to Pay For Their Attorneys

BY Jex Exmundo

March 30, 2022

Some of the world’s most high-profile prisoners have taken to selling NFTs to pay their legal fees. With cases in the major leagues often requiring a team of seasoned attorneys to handle litigation, fees can easily climb well into the millions. As such, even the most well-off incarcerated individuals probably wouldn’t mind avoiding paying these fees out of pocket.

The Silk Road to freedom?

One notable prisoner using NFTs to help fund their legal battles is Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht. He’s currently serving two consecutive life sentences – with 40 years thrown in for good measure – at a high-security penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona.

That’s effectively a death sentence; so it only makes sense that he’s been fighting since his 2015 sentencing to legally reverse the trial’s outcome. With the help of some of his most ardent followers, he might be able to accrue enough raw capital to finance a successful reversal of the trial’s outcome – via the sale of his personal writings and art, as NFTs under the Genesis Collection.

In December of 2021, a large group of Ulbricht’s supporters came together to form FreeRossDAO: an organization that hopes to free the Silk Road founder from prison. It’s only fitting that they’re raising funds via NFTs, and in turn, crypto, as Ulbricht played a huge role in the early history of decentralized digital currency.

Most of the goods put up for sale on Ulbricht’s dark web black market Silk Road were paid for using bitcoin, which gave users the freedom to conduct financial transactions in complete anonymity.

The openness and anonymity of Silk Road eventually led to the charges that landed Ulbricht in prison, however, as he’s been held accountable for sales of illegal drugs, weapons, and even assassination services conducted on the platform. Allegations were even pointed toward Ulbricht himself of using the platform the arrange the deaths of six people.

The parties working to free Ulbricht

When bitcoin’s value first crossed the $1,000 mark in 2013, many of its original holders decided to hold onto their coins leftover from their days trading on Silk Road. This decision would pay off on their end, as the coin’s value exploded in the coming years, making millionaires out of a large chunk of this original group. Understandably, these same people hold a debt of gratitude towards Ulbricht, as Silk Road had played an indirect role in their path to riches.

Many of these people went on to help establish the FreeRossDAO. Together, they’ve raised over 2,800 ETH – worth over $12 million – to go towards purchasing half of Ulbricht’s Genesis Collection.

The rest of the collection will consist of five Bitcoin NFTs slated for minting on April 5, Satoshi Nakamoto’s birthday.

Beating the clock

Ulbricht isn’t the only incarcerated individual enjoying significant backing from the NFT space. The AssangeDAO, comprised of some of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s biggest supporters, also recently made the winning bid in an NFT auction meant to raise funds for his growing legal fees. They came together to purchase Assange and Pak’s Clock NFT for 16,593 ETH ($52.7 million), making it the second-largest single NFT sale in history.

In theory, any convicted individual can use NFTs to fund their legal defenses. In the case of Ulbricht and Assange, their large followings made it possible for them to “crowdsource” funding for their legal fees. For regular people, a lot of other variables would need to fall into place to enable them to use NFTs to fight for their freedom.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated. A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Clock’s selling price as 16,953 ETH.

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