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Judge’s Church Sentence for Oklahoma Teen Called Unconstitutional

A punishment handed down by an Oklahoma judge earlier this month has sparked concern about the constitutionality of the sentence, but not for the reasons you might expect. Two weeks ago, Judge Mike Norman sentenced an Oklahoma teenager to church for ten years as a condition of probation for a driving-related manslaughter conviction. As word …

A punishment handed down by an Oklahoma judge earlier this month has sparked concern about the constitutionality of the sentence, but not for the reasons you might expect. Two weeks ago, Judge Mike Norman sentenced an Oklahoma teenager to church for ten years as a condition of probation for a driving-related manslaughter conviction. As word of the unique ruling spread in state and legal circles, many have spoken out against the sentence, condemning it as a glaring violation of the separation of church and state. If you are facing charges for a criminal offense in Oklahoma, contact our knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys at Oklahoma Legal Center as soon as possible. The potential success of your case rests heavily on the experience of your lawyer, and our top criminal defense attorney has won a dismissal or non-guilty verdict in more than 95% of his cases that have gone to trial.

Defendant Accused of Manslaughter in Underage DUI Accident

The 17-year-old defendant in the case, Tyler Alred, pleaded guilty to manslaughter for an accident last year, in which he ran his car into a tree and his 16-year-old passenger was killed. Although the defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was below the legal limit when the accident occurred, the fact that he was under the age of 21 means he was legally considered to be under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fatal crash. Alred was prosecuted as a youthful offender in the case, which gave Norman more discretion for sentencing than in an adult case. By agreeing to church attendance and other mandates established by the judge, Alred is avoiding a 10-year prison sentence for his driving-related manslaughter conviction.

Unorthodox Ruling Challenged by Constitution Experts

Not everyone has so readily agreed with Norman’s decision though. “We see a judge who has shown disregard for the First Amendment of the Constitution in his ruling,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the civil liberties union branch in Oklahoma. “Alternative sentencing is something that should be encouraged, but there are many options that don’t violate the Constitution. A choice of going to prison or to church – that is precisely the type of coercion that the First Amendment seeks to prevent.” When asked about his unorthodox ruling, Norman said, “I feel like church is important. I sentenced him to go to church for 10 years because I thought I could do that.” He continued, “I think Jesus can help anybody. I know I need help from him every day.”

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys Today

In recent years, judges around the country have mandated church attendance as part of criminal sentences. In the 1990s, Louisiana Judge Thomas P. Quirk sentenced hundreds of defendants in misdemeanor and traffic cases to attend church once a week for a year. Quirk said he only imposed the condition on defendants who agreed to it, saying that it provided a good alternative to sending defendants to overcrowded jails and imposing fines that they couldn’t afford. If you have been charged with a crime in Oklahoma, your first course of action should be to hire a reputable criminal defense attorney who will represent your best interests. Here at Oklahoma Legal Center, our criminal defense lawyers have extensive experience protecting the legal rights of those charged with Oklahoma crimes, and will work diligently to build a strong defense in your case.

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