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Why would 9 similar crimes get 9 different sentences?

A Minnesota judge just wrapped up the trials of nine recruits to a terror network who attempted to join ISIS. The Judge handed down sentences that ranged from time served and probation in a halfway house to 35 years in prison.

What made the difference for each defendant's sentence? All of them were accused of similar crimes under the U.S. Patriot Act. All were similar in age, and all were stopped before they could carry out their plans to join ISIS. Why, then, did the judge show more compassion to some defendants than others?

It essentially comes down to the attitude each defendant took regarding his own actions and toward the justice system in general. Cases like these help illustrate how your actions after an arrest can help or hurt you in the long run.

Observers noted that the judge seemed to divide the men into three groups. By far, those who accepted guilty pleas and cooperated with authorities by testifying against their co-defendants received the lightest sentences.

Those who merely accepted their guilt and agreed to a plea deal without actively testifying against the other defendants received sentences that ranged from 10-15 years.

The final group consisted of three men who neither agreed to a plea deal nor cooperated. Two were sentenced to 30-year terms and the other, described as the ringleader, received a 35-year sentence.

While you should never consider cooperating with the prosecution or testifying against co-defendants without first consulting your defense attorney, it can be beneficial for those who eventually agree to cooperate.

There are also consequences for forcing the state to put on a trial that you are extremely likely to lose.

Is it your constitutional right to refuse a plea deal and go to trial, no matter how strong the evidence is against you? Absolutely. But defense attorneys note that there's an increasing tendency to impose what's known as a "trial tax" on those who put the state to the test. Judges seem to consider the insistence on a trial — despite overwhelming evidence of guilt — as both a lack of remorse and a deliberate waste of the state's resources.

If you're charged with a crime, have a frank discussion with your attorney about the possible outcomes you may face before you decide how to proceed.

Source: NBC News, "Sentences in Minnesota ISIS Case Run from Time Served to 35 Years," Tracy Connor, Nov. 16, 2016

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