On its face, the case seemed tragic, but unexceptional. Last December, two teenagers were driving a pickup truck down an Oklahoma road at 4 a.m. when the driver, Tyler Alred, swerved off the road and hit a tree, ejecting and killing his 16-year-old passenger. Alred told police he had been drinking earlier that evening, and took two breath tests that showed, at the time of the crash, a blood-alcohol level of around 0.07—under the legal limit for adults, but over the limit for an underage driver. Alred pled guilty last August to manslaughter in the first degree as a youthful offender. The sentence was four years to life in prison, with parole.
But Alred won’t be serving any time in jail, provided, that is, he goes to church every Sunday for the next 10 years. In a decision that has received national attention and widespread criticism, Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman gave Alred a 10-year deferred sentence, which enables Alred to avoid serving any hard time as long as he fulfills certain probation terms such as, among other things, graduating from high school, taking regular drug and alcohol tests, speaking about the dangers of drinking and driving, and, yes, going to church every week for the next decade. If Alred fails to abide by these terms, Judge Norman told the New York Times that he would send the boy to prison.