California Bigamy Law & Defense
PC 281 Law (Abbr.)
California law forbids a single person from marrying the spouse of another person if the single person knows that the spouse is already married. The same law forbids a spouse from marrying a another person while the spouse is still knowingly married to his or her own spouse (PC 281).
Note: Both the spouse and the person marrying the spouse of another can be guilty of bigamy crimes.
To prove bigamy, the district attorney must prove that the defendant had knowledge that a person he or she married was already married, or that a person who is married knew he or she was married when he or she married another person.
Commonly, people attempt to procure a divorce but never finalize the legal paperwork for one reason or another. Thereafter, the same person marries again without realizing that the divorce from their first marriage was never finalized (due to a lack of formality). In this typical scenario the defendant may have a good faith belief (and defense) that his or her prior divorce had been finalized before he or she married another person.
Sentence for Bigamy (PC 281)
Bigamy may be charged as a misdemeanor or as a felony in California. Whether or not the district attorney files felony bigamy charges as opposed to misdemeanor bigamy charges is decided on a case by case basis, but the most important factors include the level of deceit involved and the criminal history of the defendant.
If found guilty of felony bigamy the defendant could face up to three years in prison or county jail. If found guilty of misdemeanor bigamy the defendant could face up to one year in county jail.
In some bigamy cases it may be possible to have the court dismiss or reduce the charges. Whether or not a dismissal or reduction of the charges is available depends largely on the strength of the defenses available and the defendant's criminal history.
Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision in lieu of jail or prison. Probation sentences carry probation terms that must be followed in order to avoid an actual jail or prison sentence. Probation sentences are common in PC 281 bigamy cases. Some probation sentences include a short jail sentence, but jail sentences associated with probation sentences may usually be served on work release or electronic monitoring (See Alternative Sentencing and Probation Violations for more information)
In addition to a possible jail or prison sentence, if found guilty of bigamy, the defendant could face any of the following punishments: loss or suspension of a professional license for licensed professionals (i.e. doctors, dentists, lawyers, nurses, teachers, therapists, etc.), deportation or denial or reentry into the United States (for non U.S. citizens), penalty fines and fees, restraining orders, civil lawsuits, restitution orders, loss of rights (including the right to own or posses a firearm for felony bigamy convictions), enhanced penalties for future convictions, and more.
Defense to PC 281 Crimes
Common defenses include: Insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant had knowledge of marriage, mistake of fact, duress, intoxication, insanity, coerced confessions, privilege against testimony, and more.
For more information on the common defenses to PC 281 crimes, please visit defenses.
If you or a loved one has been charged with the crime of bigamy, or PC 281, contact our criminal defense attorneys without delay for a free consultation. Our criminal lawyers are experienced and successful in both criminal law and family law. Our criminal and family law attorneys will patiently explain your rights and defense options. There is no fee for initial in-office consultations with our criminal defense or family law attorneys and we are available seven days a week. Call today!
Crimes Related to PC 281 Bigamy, Include:
- PC 284 Marry spouse of another person
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