• Mon, Nov 19 2012

Teen Sentenced To Attend Church After Manslaughter Conviction. America Dies A Little

How is it possible that an actual United States judge sentenced a teen facing a manslaughter conviction to go to church? I’m not sure how it could happen – but it did.

The situation that led to the conviction and subsequent sentence, is one of those awful stories no parent ever wants to hear. From Tulsa World News:

The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene.

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.

Alred was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender. He pleaded guilty in August, with no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.

What a nightmare for both families – especially the family that lost a child. The family of the boy that died expressed remorse – not anger – over the whole horrible ordeal. ”We don’t need to see two lives wasted for a mistake,” Dum’s sister, Caitlin, wrote in a statement. The defending attorney was quoted by the Muskogee Times making a plea to the judge. “I usually represent outlaws, and criminals. This is a kid that made a mistake. Judge, I think he’s worth saving.”

Judge Mike Norman agreed, and instead of sentencing him to prison time, gave him a 10- year deferred sentence. In order to stay out of prison, Alred will have to graduate from high school; graduate from welding school; take drug, alcohol and nicotine tests for a year; wear a drug and alcohol bracelet, participate in victim’s impact panels, and attend church for the next 10 years.

All of that other stuff makes sense – but you lost me at attending church. Alred doesn’t have a problem with that part of his sentence. He already attends church every Sunday. But again – what? How is it possible that in the United States of America we are weaving religious activities into law enforcement? Separation of church and state is a real thing, isn’t it? Apparently not in Oklahoma.

The kid was already attending church regularly. Clearly it did nothing to stop him from acting irresponsibly and committing manslaughter. If church magically cleared people of all stupidity and instantly “reformed” them – well, let’s just say the religious right would look a lot different.

This is insane. Alred is apparently already a Christian, but what if he wasn’t? What if he came from a family of Atheists? Could the law still force him to go to church? This may seem like one small case from one small town, but I don’t think it should go unnoticed.

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • DadCAMP

    Just as silly as the judge who sentenced the sidewalk driver to wear the “I’m an idiot” sign. Real punishments, please.

  • Lawcat

    He could challenge the church attendance part of the punishment if he wanted to as it may not be legally upheld. It doesn’t make me feel good, but if the defendant has no problem with it, then it’s a non-issue.

    If it were an atheist or other denomination, then lawyers could petition the judge to some other alternative. If the judge forced an Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or even a Catholic into a protestant church, then there would be an issue to be raised because they would opposed to the teachings of the church they would be forced to attend.

    Or, he could’ve pulled jail time within the judge’s sentencing guidelines. That’s always an alternative.

  • Jenni

    Having grown up in Tulsa and now living just a bit south in OKC, this doesn’t surprise me. My husband and I are Christmas/Easter christians, but we both grew up in houses where you went to church every Sunday, rain or shine. That is how many people in this part of the country grow up and then raise their children. I’ve had people try to get me to join their church right after meeting them for the first time. We are a very churchy state.
    It is crazy that this is a part of the sentence though! I don’t really see how that can be considered legal (separation of church and state, and all that), and what if he has a falling out with his faith? And, what is considered ‘attending church?’ Does going twice a year count? Two times a month? Every Sunday and Wednesday, like a lot of my friends did growing up? Seems like a hard thing to monitor…

  • CW

    Maybe the thinking was that church would help him deal with the guilt of killing his friend? I’m a Christian and personally think that psychotherapy would probably be more useful for that purpose than just sitting in the pews every week.

  • Julie

    Even though the kid doesn’t have a problem with it, it’s still wrong and it’s not a “non-issue”. This opens the door for this kind of thing to happen in the future, especially now that there is case law to back it up. I’m not religious and I don’t go to church. If this happened to me or one of my children- or anyone in my family for that matter- you can bet your ass I’d be raising hell.

    • Lawcat

      The only person who has standing to bring the issue in front of another judge is the defendant. Since he doesn’t have a problem with it, it actually is a non issue.

      It probably wouldn’t be upheld if it were actually challenged. I wouldn’t say it sets precedent for future case law as it’s clearly a violation of church and state. If another defendant had a problem with it, it would be dropped pretty quickly.

    • Shea

      It’s an issue because a judge, who is a representative of the judicial branch of government, is sentencing a defendant to attend a religious institution as part of a punishment. It doesn’t matter, legally, that the defendant doesn’t have a problem with the punishment, since he already attends church on a regular basis. I’m not legal expert, but it seems to me that the very act of mandating religious observance as part of a punishment for a crime is a violation of the separation of church and state. At the very least, it’s a disturbing example of how interwoven religion and government have become in the United States.

    • Julie

      I think I remember from other comments you’ve made on the site (not to mention your screen name) that you are, in fact, a lawyer. You would know more about it than I would, so I trust you know what you’re talking about :) I still consider it to be an issue that a judge would deem that kind of sentence acceptable punishment when it clearly isn’t. But if it were to happen again in the future and defendant was not OK with it, I surely hope that what you say would hold true.

    • http://twitter.com/DecaturFlora Flora

      Agreed! I’m shocked– it’s a continuation of the idea that if you’re not attending church, you have no moral basis for your life. I get enough of that with my in laws, I don’t need to worry that the judicial system is going to get the same idea…

  • Alexandra

    The best way to make someone hate religion is to push it on them.
    In Russia, where religion was forbidden during communism and children had “atheism” classes during school, there is a surge of religious people.
    In Quebec, where the church had a great influence on the state and had a great control over people’s lives, hardly anyone is religious now.
    So either way, this is ridiculous. Forcing this person to go to church won’t make him a better person, and it also won’t make him any more religious.