An Oklahoma district judge’s decision to sentence a 17-year-old to ten years of church attendance has caused quite a stir in the public and legal community. Despite numerous people asking legitimate questions about whether or not this type of sentence is constitutional, Judge Mike Norman is standing by his decision.

On December 4, 2011, Tyler Alfred drove a Chevrolet pickup into a tree. His friend, 16-year-old John Dum, was a passenger in the vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Police officers administered two blood alcohol breath tests to Alfred. His blood alcohol level was .06 and .07 – below the .08 per se impairment threshold established under the state’s DUI law. In Oklahoma, as in most jurisdictions, if you are underage and driving under the influence of alcohol, you can still be charged with DUI even if your BAC level is below the statutory threshold. Alfred was charged with vehicular manslaughter.

During Alfred’s sentencing hearing, Judge Norman ordered him to attend church for the next 10 years, in lieu of incarceration. Alfred is also required to finish high school and attend welding school. Apparently, the victim’s family agreed to the sentence.

Alfred’s criminal defense attorney also didn’t have a problem with Judge Norman’s sentence. The attorney stated that Alfred already attends church on a regular basis, so it will not be a problem for him to comply with the terms of the sentence.

Alfred’s attorney said that even though the sentence terms are unusual, he is not going to challenge it as unlawful or unconstitutional. As a criminal defense attorney, the priority is to get a client’s charges dismissed, get an acquittal at trial, or fight for minimal sentence terms upon conviction. From the perspective of Alfred’s attorney, a requirement that Alfred attend church and finish school rather than spend years in prison is a preferred outcome.

Judge Norman has ordered other criminal defendants to attend church, but it was never for a case that involved manslaughter, according to Assistant District Attorney Jim Carnagey. The seriousness of the charges against Alfred is also one of the reasons why Judge Norman’s church sentence has received national attention.

The U.S. Constitution requires a separation of church and state but Judge Norman has claimed that the Lord appears through him and the court. The judge attends a Baptist church in Oklahoma and believes that he has led more people to Jesus than has his preacher. As a judge in a criminal court, is it Judge Norman’s job to lead people to Jesus and require them to attend church? Of course not.Judge Norman has admitted that his sentence probably would not hold up if it was legally challenged; nevertheless, he firmly believes his decision was right in this case.

Even though religion is an important part of many people’s lives, as an officer of the court a judge is supposed to separate his personal religious views from how he decides the issues in a case. A representative from the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union stated that this type of sentence is a clear violation of the First Amendment. Since none of the interested parties in this case – the prosecutor, Tyler Alfred, Tyler Alfred’s attorney, the victim’s family – appear to have a problem with this sentence, the constitutional validity of the judge’s sentence will likely not be challenged.

If you have been charged with a DUI or violent offense, contact an attorney with our firm. Schedule a consultation so that your case can be evaluated. A DC DUI lawyer will explain your rights and help you reach the best resolution possible for your case.