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Utah County won't prosecute Sister Wives for bigamy

Published June 1, 2012 11:56 am

Prosecutors' new policy includes tossing suit vs. "Sister Wives" family.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A polygamous family made famous by a reality TV show won't face criminal charges, Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman said Thursday.

The office has adopted a formal policy stating it won't file bigamy charges against any consenting adult polygamists unless violence, abuse or fraud is involved.

It is "intended to prevent future prosecution of polygamists in Utah County for just the practice of polygamy," now or in the future, even after Buhman leaves office.

The statements are part of a motion to dismiss a challenge to the state's bigamy law filed by Kody Brown and his four wives: Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn.

Buhman says an investigation found no other crimes and charges wouldn't be filed unless some other new evidence surfaces. He argues the new policy renders the suit moot.

An attorney for the Brown family disagreed.

"While I am pleased that the prosecutors are now promising to leave this family alone, the decision will not end our challenge to the state law," said Washington, D.C.-based attorney Jonathan Turley in a blog entry posted Thursday, expressing his "great relief for the Brown family that this long-standing threat has been finally lifted."

The Browns say the bigamy law, which makes it a felony to marry or live with more than one than one spouse, violates their constitutional right to privacy and religious freedom. They filed their own 71-page motion for summary judgement Thursday.

When the TLC show Sister Wives debuted in 2010, Utah County prosecutors announced they were investigating the then-Lehi residents and gave several media interviews. A federal judge decided the possible "chilling effect" on the family's free speech allowed the lawsuit to go forward even though formal charges hadn't been filed.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, whose office wrote Thursday's motion, has long had a similar policy of not prosecuting consenting adult polygamists. That policy led the judge to dismiss him from the Browns' lawsuit earlier this year.

Utah County is the first county to adopt such a policy, but prosecutions of consenting adults absent of other crimes has been a rarity in the state for half a century. Prosecutions of Utah's most high profile polygamists — Tom Green and sect leader Warren Jeffs — have involved sex crime allegations.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst ­—

Utah County Attorney's new bigamy policy

The Utah County Attorney's Office will prosecute the crime of bigamy under Section 76-7-101 in two circumstances: (1) When a victim is induced to marry through their partner's fraud, misrepresentations or omissions; or (2) When a person purports to marry or cohabits with another person in violation of Section 76-7-101(1) and is also engaged in some type of abuse, violence or fraud. This office will prosecute the crime of bigamy under Section 76-7-101.5 regardless of whether one of the parties is also engaged in some type of abuse, violence or fraud.