We have another judge who has decided to create his own system of criminal punishment with novel sentencing. Oklahoma judge Mike Norman has magnified this increasingly common form of judicial abuse by adding compelled religious observance to sentence. Norman deferred a prison sentence for Tyler Alred, 17, in exchange for his agreement to attend church for 10 years. Norman observed “[t]he Lord works in many ways,” including it appears through him and his court. While many would view the imposition of religious observance in a criminal sentence as something akin to an American Taliban court, Norman insists that he has judicially ordered religious practices in the past.
Alred pleaded guilty to an August crash that killed his friend and passenger John Luke Dum. Alred had been drinking before the accident.
As in many of these cases, there is no one in the case to challenge the obvious constitutional violation since both the prosecutor and the family support the sentence. The agreement of the prosecutors shows an ethical and professional failure to protect the integrity of the legal system.
Norman admitted that “There are a lot of people who say I can’t do what I did. They’re telling me I can’t legally sentence someone to church.” Well, yes, that would be anyone who reads and believes in the Constitution.
Norman is a member of First Baptist Church in Muskogee and said that “I told my preacher I thought I led more people to Jesus than he had.” Of course, that is his preacher’s job.
I have written columns (here and here and here) and blogs articles (here and here and here and here and here) criticizing this worrisome trend, though the most serious such cases involve judges like Norman who try to bring “more people to Jesus” while carrying out his duties as a judicial officer. These judges make a mockery out of our court system and sit like little Caesars in meting out their own idiosyncratic forms of justice — often to the thrill of citizens. They degrade not just their courts in such novel sentencing but the legal system as a whole. This judge appears to relish his reputation as the gavel of God — sending felons to embrace faith.
In the meantime, other judges, prosecutors, and the state bar remain silent in the face of this judicial abuse. I can understand a judge ignoring the most fundamental principles of our Constitution and our profession. What I cannot understand is an entire bar that just stands by silently as he imposes religious-based sentences. I have often spoken to the Oklahoma bar members and I have previously stated my love for the state. I am saddened to see the lack of action taken against Norman in a bar with so many talented and respected lawyers.