MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 3, 2012

ACLU files complaint against judge who gave church sentence

By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Exactly one year after a crash killed a Muskogee teenager, a complaint has been filed against the judge who sentenced the driver to church.

District Judge Mike Norman sentenced Tyler Alred, 17, to 10 years of probation after Alred pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. Alred was the driver of a pickup that crashed Dec. 3, 2011, killing John Luke Dum, 16.

Norman also ordered Alred to attend church for 10 years, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma to react, saying that sentencing Alred to church is unconstitutional.

“Our position is that if this is what (Alred) wants, that’s fine,” said Brady Henderson, the ACLU of Oklahoma’s legal director. “Our concern is with the larger issue, where a judge is doing sentencing practices that aren’t constitutional. This is not an issue that would change anything for Mr. Alred.”

Muskogee County District Attorney Larry Moore said a presentence investigation recommended incarceration for Alred, and First Assistant District Attorney Jim Carnagey had recommended that the judge follow the PSI.

However, when Norman sentenced Alred, who had just minutes earlier had spoken to the Dum family in a tearful apology, he levied a number of rules and conditions, none of which included jail time.

In addition to attending church, Norman also decreed Alred must:

• Graduate from high school.

• Graduate from welding school.

• Take drug and alcohol assessment and submit to drug, alcohol and nicotine tests for a year.

• Wear a drug and alcohol bracelet.

• Take part in victim’s impact panels.

However, it was the church attendance condition that drew national attention, as critics maintained it was in violation of the First Amendment.

Henderson said the complaint would go through the state Council on Judicial Complaints.

“It’s not dissimilar from a bar complaint against an attorney,” Henderson said. “What they do is make recommendations on if that person — in this case Judge Norman — should potentially lose their seat on the bench, or receive a reprimand, or in some case they decide no action needs to be taken.”

Henderson said that if the council recommends Norman be removed from his seat, he can either remove himself or opt for a trial before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Henderson also said he would reach out to Moore, saying his organization doesn’t  believe Moore should try to enforce an acceleration of Alred’s sentencing, should Alred break the church attendance condition.

The sentence put Moore in a tricky spot should Alred fail to attend church — should Moore prosecute the teen for something Moore believes is unconstitutional?

“I have discretion as a prosecutor whether to file the application to accelerate or not,” Moore said. “And I’m not going to do anything that’s unconstitutional. Before I accelerated his sentence, I would make sure I was on solid constitutional footing. I go to church. I think everyone should go to church. But I’m going to make sure I was on solid constitutional footing. I’ll follow the law in spite of my religious convictions.”

Norman said last week that he had not spoken to an ACLU representative and that he was standing by his decision.

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.