Harsh Sentencing of ISIS Convicts in Minnesota is a Mortgage

U.S. Federal Judge Michael Davis sentenced three of the nine young men convicted of attempting to join ISIS by largely white jury between 30 to 35 years. This harsh sentencing is a mortgage on future community policing.

Judge Michael Davis ruminated on his decision for months giving all kinds of indications that he preferred restorative justice over punitive. He asked community leaders to present rehabilitation plan. He brought in an international expert on rehabilitating convicts of such crimes. Davis ultimately agreed with the prosecutor and gave the three youngsters essentially life sentences.

Families of the men were shocked and felt no mercy from the judge. The families eventually came around to the realization what the men did were wrong and indefensible but maintain a sense of being railroaded by the prosecutor.

The families maintain the young men, some of them in their teens when charged, got inadequate legal representation as the public defender attorneys ( profiles here) were no match for the army of lawyers and investigators advancing the fed’s case. Two of the defendants almost started trial without an attorney as defense lawyers abruptly resigned. One defense lawyer complained about not being paid for more than six months of work. Public defenders in federal cases are paid through “panel” attorneys under the Criminal Justice Act (CJA).

Equally shocked were community leaders who worked with prosecutor particularly members of the Somali-American Task Force created by U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Andrew Luger. They now have to return to their community empty-handed after more than two years of trying to mediate the feds and community outraged by heavy-handed law enforcement tactics. It's the relationship this group has been trying to build with the feds which has been mortgaged the most.

One community leader who is not involved in the task force characterized the case of the nine men which ended with the last man sentenced to 35 years in prison as a community "rape". He said the entire case was managed in a matter which made the feds looked great and shed Minnesota's large Somali-American community in a negative light.

According to a number of community leaders I spoke with since the sentencing, the judge had a plethora of options including sentencing the men without public humiliation in court but chose not to. Forcing the young men to plea for mercy with tears flowing before handing down at least three decades of prison time served no public good, another community leader concurred.

Judge Davis argued he chose the harsh approach in order to send a deterrence message to any possible terror aspirant. One has to hope the judge is right about the deterrence message but the inevitable outcome is an already strained relationship between feds and community will deteriorate further.

The inability of the feds to ensure families felt defendants received adequate legal representation, the judge choosing public humiliation before harsh sentencing and the failure by members of the Somali-American Task Force to influence the sentencing process culminates to a considerable mortgage of future community policing particularly the ability to interdict possible terror aspirants.