Car Crash

Criminal Sentence Requiring Church Attendance Draws Criticism

Oklahoma takes impaired driving very seriously. A buzz after a couple drinks at a happy hour with co-workers could be enough to put you over the legal blood alcohol content limit of .08.

There is little tolerance for underage students who drink alcohol; the legal BAC limit for underage drivers is .02. In one recent case, a Musckogee County judge is facing scrutiny after crafting an unusual sentence for an underage drunk driver.

What lead up to the unique sentence?

In 2011, an intoxicated 17-year old driver hit a tree. His friend, who was riding as a passenger in the vehicle, died in the crash. The teen had a BAC of .07 at the time of the accident. Recently, the teen pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge.

What was unusual about the case was the 10-year church sentence handed down by the judge. The same judge has been known to order similar sentences for parents who do not pay child support.

Many in the community were upset with the sentence. They believed that for such a serious offense the teenager needed a stiffer penalty.

Generally, judges must impose a sentence within a specific range of consequences for any given offense. However, judges have some discretion and can sentence in quite different ways. It is unclear whether attending church was just one part of the sentence. Because of the differences in sentencing, retaining an experienced defense attorney who has appeared in front of local judges can be very important when facing criminal charges.

Typical DUI circumstances and penalties

A police officer must have a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity before stopping a car. Officers cannot stop a vehicle on curiosity alone, but speeding or running a red light might justify a stop. After a vehicle stop, the odor of alcohol is one reason an officer might ask the driver to complete field sobriety testing. If a driver fails those tests, then he or she is often placed under arrest.

Oklahoma has an implied consent law, which makes it a crime to refuse a BAC test. Test refusal can often result in a more severe sentence than a DUI conviction. When BAC results are over .08 then Oklahoma DUI charges are likely.

Penalties for a DUI conviction can include jail time even on a first offense. License suspension, ignition interlock and a mandatory alcohol assessment are frequently ordered. For repeat offenders, the loss of a vehicle to forfeiture becomes another possibility.

When facing criminal charges related to impaired operation of a vehicle, consult an experienced DUI defense attorney. In some cases there might be defenses to the charges in others a negotiated plea can limit the consequences of a conviction.