While Protos, by virtue of being a news outlet, has avoided the truly unhinged and off-base takes making waves on X and YouTube regarding the Sam Bankman-Fried case, they’re worth discussing for one reason. Namely because many people seem to believe in their hearts that — despite a disastrous trial, SBF being forced back to jail during his bail, and witnesses for days testifying against Bankman-Fried — the alleged fraudster will soon walk free.
Let me add here that I have no special insight, am not a lawyer, and anything is possible in the world of criminal trials. On that note, there is almost no chance that Sam Bankman-Fried walks away free from this court case.
The odds are in the prosecution’s favor
According to Pew Research data, while nearly 90% of federal court cases end in guilty pleas, only 2.3% went to trial, and of those 80% ended in convictions. Generally, the best move for a defendant facing federal charges is to strike some sort of deal with the government, but we know that Bankman-Fried declined any offers of compromise and has desperately fought for his freedom.
Unfortunately, the legal team that once represented Ghislaine Maxwell has been unable to discover a clean, simple, and understandable way to sow doubt into the minds of onlookers as to whether Bankman-Fried is guilty of wire fraud, bank fraud, and money laundering — and it isn’t for lack of trying.
The defense has attempted to portray its client as a wily, young, disorganized founder with a loosely coordinated team that he had little-to-no control over. Obviously, this is to paint Bankman-Fried as criminally negligent as opposed to guilty of any fraud or purposeful money laundering — a charge that would carry far less time than the possible decades and decades the alleged fraudster faces now.
The problem with this optimistic defense strategy is… well, all of it.
Everyone else must be lying
For the jurors to believe Bankman-Fried, they must pretty much accept that all of the other witnesses are lying. This can work when there’s a ‘he-said-she-said’ type case involving two people, but for FTX/Alameda Research Bankman-Fried has to be more convincing than Caroline Ellison (CEO of Alameda Research), Gary Wang (CTO at FTX), Nishad Singh (director of engineering at FTX), a slew of expert witnesses, journalists, and, last but not least, victims.
Odds aren’t just 80% against Bankman-Fried, they were stacked far higher before he ever decided to take the stand.
And then he decided to take the stand.
On a disaster scale, his testimony has been less ‘nuclear’ and more ‘large forest fire,’ but the outcome will be the same either way: he’ll fail to present reasonable doubt for the charges he’s accused of and will likely be sentenced to an extended stay in federal prison later this year.
But what about [insert legal doctrine here]?
Again, not being a lawyer, there are only so many legal maneuvers that I can imagine being open to Bankman-Fried, and most of them are unviable.
The first regularly-mentioned maneuver is to hope for a mistrial. In a mistrial, something dangerously erroneous has to occur — from a legal team that’s utterly incompetent to a defendant who is literally insane. It’s difficult to conceive of a world in which a mistrial is declared: both the prosecution and defense have been professional and Bankman-Fried has been properly medicated and able to access documents.
There’s been some discussion of Judge Kaplan’s consistent and persistent nagging of the defense team for being repetitive and long-winded, but no one has been chastised or admonished in a way that skews how jurors may feel. Odds of a mistrial are near zero.
Another option that will undoubtedly be utilized by whoever continues to fight Bankman-Fried’s corner will be an appeal. This simply means that they’ll lodge a reason for the defendant’s guilt to be reviewed and almost always requires some anomaly or loophole to succeed. It’s possible that some spectacular evidence or new witness could come to light in the future, but the odds, again, are near zero.
Let’s talk about Bankman-Fried’s donations
Lastly, conspiracy theorists are hellbent on the idea that due to Bankman-Fried’s political donations, behind-closed-doors handshake deals, and important legal family lineage, he’ll receive a presidential pardon allowing him to serve, at most, a handful of years of prison time.
On at least two recent occasions, presidents have moved forward with extremely controversial presidential pardons: in 1974 Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon and in 2001 Bill Clinton pardoned billionaire Marc Rich.
While Ford had the shaky excuse of attempting to heal a broken democracy, Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich has never been viewed kindly. In an editorial from the period, The New York Times called it an “irresponsible use of [Clinton’s] pardoning authority [that] has undermined the pursuit of justice.”
So, of all the conspiracy theorist takes, this might be the one most grounded in reality.
But Clinton was helping a billionaire who had been charged with millions in tax fraud. If SBF leaves jail tomorrow, he leaves it a relatively poor and powerless 31-year-old, hated by the crypto industry and viewed as a pariah to everyone else. Joe Biden has no good reason to pardon Bankman-Fried.
The final possibility for SBF
The last possibility, which is out of the control of everyone involved, is a hung jury. In the case of a hung jury, all of the jurors would need to be unable to agree on all of the charges — a moment that occurs less than 10% of the time.
A lawyer familiar with the case said, “The one thing that has been shown pretty straightforwardly is that Sam is ultra-rich, ultra weird, and stole money. People like that don’t get a lot of sympathy from the jurors.” “But,” they added cautiously, “anything is possible. It only takes one juror.”
This is to say that while there’s plenty of room to be skeptical of the outcome and even to believe there’s a chance Bankman-Fried avoids a lengthy sentence, no conspiracy theories are necessary — just examine the complicated US legal system and expect the most likely conclusion.