Is Polygamy a Crime in Utah?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

Being charged with polygamy in Utah can be severe. The state does not recognize plural marriages within their laws. People practicing this lifestyle must be aware there can be severe legal consequences if prosecuted. People charged with polygamy could also face additional criminal charges if they are found guilty of related issues, such as domestic abuse. If you or a loved one was charged with bigamy in Utah, you need experienced legal representation at your side. Salt Lake City polygamy defense lawyer, Darwin Overson discusses polygamy and its possible consequences. Call today at (801) 515-0883.

What is the Crime of Polygamy/Bigamy in Utah?

Polygamy is the practice of marrying another person while legally married to another. In other words, having more than one legal spouse is considered polygamy. Having more than one marriage at a time is not legally recognized in any of the nation’s 50 states. Furthermore, polygamy was declared a felony under the Edmund’s Act in the 1800s.

Even today polygamy is still a crime. Utah Code § 76-7-101 defines polygamy. The statute calls the crime of polygamy “bigamy.” A person commits bigamy when “knowing the person has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry and cohabitates with the other person.”

Historically, plural marriages have been practiced by many cultures and religious denominations. During the 1850s, polygamy became a real issue, creating an intense legal debate between the U.S. government and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). The fierce debate between the Mormon Church and U.S. government led to an abandonment of plural marriages amongst the LDS community. However, while most LDS members accepted to step away from polygamy, other groups kept marrying multiple women in their community.

Are There Criminal Penalties for Polygamy in Utah?

According to Utah Law, polygamy or bigamy is a crime. Polygamy is considered a third degree felony in the state. This means you could potentially spend a long time in prison (up to 5 years) and pay hefty fines (up to $5,000). In addition to the harsh penalties you could face for committing bigamy, other criminal charges could stem from multi-marriage lifestyles.

There have been several polygamy cases which the government worked to resolve with severe legal repercussions. One of the most notorious Utah polygamy cases was the trial of Mormon fundamentalist Thomas Green. The Utah Mormon was charged with serious felonies. The prosecution alleged Mr. Green married several teenage girls and then divorced them to commit welfare fraud. He was also accused of child rape for sustaining sexual relations with an underage wife (13 years old) who gave birth to one of Mr. Green’s many children. At the end of his trial, the defendant was sentenced to years in prison but was later released on parole.

Many bigamists utilize a “marry and divorce” strategy to avoid criminal prosecution. To avoid criminal charges, a man marries a woman. After she takes her husband’s name, the couple proceeds to divorce, creating the opportunity for the man to legally marry again. This way, a man can build up a big family with several partners – who share the same surname – without fear of breaking the law. Even if you elect to try a strategy like this, you could still run into legal trouble for fraud or other crimes, so it is important to work with an attorney on your case to ensure you do not run afoul of other laws.

Polygamists must always be aware of all potential legal consequences. While not all polygamists arrange marriages with underage girls, some do violate these laws and could face charges of sexual abuse of a minor. Under Utah law, unlawful sexual activity with a minor is a serious criminal offense. According to Utah Code § 76-5-401, engaging in sexual activity with a minor is considered a third degree felony. Not only will you face years in prison and high fines, but you could also be registered as a sex offender.

While bigamy is a crime in Utah, there may be ways to fight the charges against you. Talk to an attorney about defense strategies for your case.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Handling Polygamy Cases in Salt Lake City, Utah

Darwin Overson of Overson Law has represented defendants in Salt Lake City and other communities throughout Utah for almost 20 years. His experience and litigation skills allow him to offer high-quality, strategic criminal defense. We understand the severity of polygamy charges, and we are ready to provide you with strong legal representation to fight to obtain the best possible outcome in your case. If you or a loved one was charged with polygamy or other related crimes such as domestic violence, you have no time to waste. To schedule a free, confidential consultation with our Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers, call our law offices today at (801) 515-0883.