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Is Bigamy a Sex Crime in Texas?

It is common knowledge that you cannot legally be married to more than one person at the same time. But bigamy is more than a civil indiscretion. It is, in fact, a criminal offense under the Texas Penal Code–specifically, a third-degree felony.

Bigamy involving minors is treated especially severely in Texas. If an already married individual attempts to marry someone else who is 17 at the time, the criminal bigamy charge can be elevated from a third- to second-degree felony. And attempted bigamy with someone aged 16 and younger is classified as a first-degree felony, meaning the bigamist could face the potential of life imprisonment.

Court Rebuffs Challenge to “Bigamy Enhancement” for Sexual Assault

Separately, Texas law governing sexual assault makes it a first-degree felony when the offense is committed against “a person whom the actor was prohibited from marrying or purporting to marry or with whom the actor was prohibited from living under the appearance of being married” under the bigamy law. In other words, you are subject to additional legal penalties if you are already married and proceed to commit sexual assault against another person that, by definition, you cannot legally marry.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) recently rejected a constitutional challenge to this particular law. The defendant, who was legally married to another woman, had “sexual intercourse on multiple occasions” with a 14-year-old girl. Prosecutors charged the defendant with sexual assault of a minor–normally a second-degree felony–but invoked the “bigamy enhancement” to elevate the charge to a first-degree felony.

The jury convicted the defendant on five counts of sexual assault, finding as relevant here that he was having sex with a minor he was legally prohibited from marrying. On appeal, the defendant argued the bigamy enhancement was unconstitutional since it treated married and unmarried defendants differently. In other words, if the defendant had not been married at all when he committed the offense, he would have received a less-harsh sentence.

The Court of Criminal Appeals ultimately affirmed the law’s constitutionality. A majority of the Court held the State of Texas “has a legitimate interest in deterring, preventing, and punishing the sexual exploitation of children.” The bigamy enhancement was designed by the Texas legislature to protect children against “sexual predators” who would “use the ‘cloak of marriage’ to gain access to children whose parents might be less cautious in sending their children to homes with married parents.”

So the law does not necessarily target bigamous conduct. Rather, it is “rationally related” to a broader scheme to protect children. And on those grounds, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence.

Have You Been Charged With a Sex Crime in League City? Call Us Today

When it comes to sex crimes, Houston-area prosecutors will use every legal tool at their disposal to maximize a defendant’s potential sentence. This is why you need to take all sex crimes allegations seriously. If you need help from a qualified Galveston sex crimes defense attorney, call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (281) 280-0100 or contact us online.