MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Opinion

December 8, 2012

Sentence idea good, not enforceable

A Muskogee County District Court judge’s sentence of a teen convicted of manslaughter has drawn national attention in recent weeks.

District Judge Mike Norman sentenced 17-year-old Tyler Alred to probation for the death of his friend John Luke Dum in an alcohol-related car crash in 2011.

As a condition of the probation, Norman sentenced Dum to attend church for 10 years. This condition, one of a list, is what has prompted national media outlets such as ABC News, CNN Headline News, Slate.com and others to pick up the story.

The ruling also led the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma to react, saying that sentencing Alred to church is unconstitutional. The ACLU has filed a complaint against Norman through the state Council on Judicial Complaints.

It should be noted that Alred does not object to the sentence, and neither, it appears, do the members of Dum’s family.

The probation also requires Alred graduate high school and graduate from welding school. In part it reads like a goal list for the young man, probably based on his own statements.

On the one hand, if the person convicted and the family of the victim are happy with the sentence, what is the problem?

It looks as if Alred were sentenced to do something good with his life, in part in response to testimony from the Dum family.

Dum’s sister, Caitlin, said in her victim’s statement: “We don’t need to see two lives wasted for a mistake.”

It looks like Norman tried to honor that, to keep the teen out of prison and put him on the path to reshape his life. The church requirement was part of that.

The concept is good. Keep the kid out of trouble, give him good guidance,  require him to get on the right track.

On the other hand, the church requirement appears to violate the First Amendment. It could be challenged on Constitutional grounds.

None of the parties seem inclined to do so. But if Alred at some point stops attending church, violating his probation, revocation seems unlikely.

The church order is likely unenforceable.

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