California recognizes marriages between a man and a woman and two partners of the same sex, but it does not acknowledge marriages where one party is already married to another person. In fact, bigamy is a crime in California. In fact, Escondido criminal lawyers warn that in these cases, both parties can be charged with a crime if they knew about the previous marriage.
What is Bigamy in California?
In California, marrying someone you know is already married and marrying someone when you know you are already married are both considered bigamy. In many cases, both the husband and wife will be charged, as long as they were both aware of the previous marriage.
It is critical in this case that the person being charged know about the prior marriage. So, for example, if a man is marrying a woman who is already married, but she never told him about her other spouse, he could not be charged with bigamy. If the woman had filed for divorce and earnestly thought it had been finalized when she attempted to remarry, she also could not be charged with bigamy. Generally speaking, San Marcos defense attorneys agree that a lack of knowledge is the best defense in these cases. In fact, frequently charges can be avoided altogether if it can be proven that the parties involved were unaware that the prior marriage was still legally binding.
Potential Sentences for Bigamy
If prosecutors believe there is enough evidence to prove one or both party had knowledge of the prior marriage, which sometimes happens in cases with religions that permit polygamy, those charged may face misdemeanor or felony charges. The decision as to whether to charge the crime as a felony or misdemeanor is up to the prosecutor and will often depend on the history of the defendant. For example, if a man has a history of trying to marry young women without telling them he is already being married, he would be a lot more likely to face felony charges than a woman who chose to become a second wife to a man she knew was married. A Fallbrook defense lawyer can help convince the DA to charge the case as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
As a misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by up to one year in jail, although probation is frequently given in place of or in addition to jail time. As a felony, the sentence is a maximum of 3 years in prison. In addition to incarceration, a defendant could also lose her professional license to work as a doctor, dentist, lawyer, teacher or other licensed profession. This is also considered a crime “of moral turpitude” that could result in deportation for non-citizens.
If you have been accused of bigamy, Rancho Bernardo criminal attorney Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.