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November 17, 2012

"Oklahoma Judge Sentences Teen to Church for 10 Years"

The title of this post is the headline of this local sentencing story which reveals that the separation of church and state apparently does not apply to some sentencings.  Here are the (inspired? revealed? prophetic? spiritual?) details:

Anybody who knows Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman probably yawned at the news that he’d sentenced a teen offender to attend church as part of his probation arrangement, and that the judge’s pastor was in the courtroom at the time. Not only had he handed down such a sentence before, but he’d required one man to bring the church program back with him when he reported to court.

“The Lord works in many ways,” Norman, 69, told ABC News today. “I’ve done a little bit of this kind of thing before, but never on such a serious charge.”

Norman sentenced Tyler Alred, 17, Tuesday after he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in August for killing friend and passenger John Luke Dum in a car crash. Dum died on impact in December after Alred crashed his Chevrolet pickup truck, ejecting Dum. Alred was 16 at the time of the crash and had been drinking prior to the deadly accident. Oklahoma Highway Patrol issued a Breathalyzer at the time, and although Alred was under the state’s legal alcohol limit, he had been drinking underage.

The judge could have sent Alred to jail but, instead, taking into account his clean criminal and school records, sentenced him to wear a drug and alcohol bracelet, participate in counseling groups and attend a church of his choosing – weekly. He must also graduate from high school. To avoid jail time, Norman gave Alred a maximum 10-year deferred sentence....

“It’s not going to be automatic, I guarantee you,” Norman said of the church sentence on future manslaughter charges. “There are a lot of people who say I can’t do what I did. They’re telling me I can’t legally sentence someone to church.”

Alred’s lawyer is not among the critics. “I usually represent outlaws and criminals,” defense attorney Donn Baker told the Muskogee Phoenix. “This is a kid that made a mistake. I think he’s worth saving.”

In the courtroom this week, an emotional scene between the victim’s family and Alred played out after statements from Dum’s mother, father and two sisters were read during the sentencing. Dum’s father and Alred stood up in court, turned toward each other and embraced one another. “At that moment, it sure became a reality to me that I would sentence this boy to church” to help set him on the right path, Norman, a member of First Baptist Church in Muskogee, said. “There’s nothing I can do to make this up to the family.

“I told my preacher I thought I led more people to Jesus than he had but, then again, more of my people have amnesia. They soon forget once they get out of jail.”

After completing the rest of the requirements in his sentence, Alred will have the charge removed from his record. “Only time will tell if we’ve saved Tyler Alred’s life,” the judge said.

November 17, 2012 at 10:10 AM | Permalink


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The condition would have been blatantly unlawful if the defendant had been unwilling.
Prof. Stan Adelman

Posted by: Stan Adelman | Nov 17, 2012 10:31:08 AM

A bit more info:

First, his lawyer says that he is already a church goer. Second:

Although not legally drunk – he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness – he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.


A bit more than a "mistake" really. As noted by the first comment, you cannot involuntarily sentence someone to church, but I think it is valid if there was a real secular option, including weekly meetings of an ethical culture society (to the degree that would be "secular").

The whole thing sounds like perfect fodder for a work of Christian fiction.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 17, 2012 11:07:15 AM

Always nice to have an unenforceable probation condition. As soon as they try to put the kid in jail for missing a service, he'll challenge the condition and win.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 17, 2012 2:29:08 PM

Anon --

I agree that sentencing someone to church is illegal (plus a bad idea). But he's going to have to object to the sentence now, or the objection is waived.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 17, 2012 5:12:14 PM

This is a great idea.

Everyone knows that going to church keeps people from drinking and, even better, keeps people from having automobile accidents.

Posted by: C.E. | Nov 17, 2012 10:55:20 PM

Bill said, "But he's going to have to object to the sentence now, or the objection is waived."

Maybe, or maybe not. Depends on Oklahoma law re: waiver and forfeiture. Among other things, he can argue that a challenge to his conditions of probation isn't ripe until he's accused of violating one of them. Or, he can argue that, waiver or no waiver, the condition is so blatantly unconstitutional so as to be plainly erroneous. I suppose it's possible that state law waiver rules are so harsh that they would block a clearly meritorious challenge, but I sure hope not.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 18, 2012 3:13:54 PM

This is a new look on punishment. I would love to see something like this in Arizona. I have practiced here for years and feel it would benefit everyone. The only way this would not be acceptable is if he specified the type of church you must attend. As a criminal it would be easy to attend a church online and make it an easier sentence.

Posted by: Naegle Law Firm | Mar 6, 2013 3:58:50 PM

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