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One husband, four wives, thirteen children, and three stepchildren. Those are the cast members on the new TLC show Sister Wives. Now, to the surprise of no one but the twenty one people named above, the Sister Wives family is being investigated for bigamy.
CBS reports that the Sister Wives family may be charged with bigamy -- a third degree felony in the state of Utah. Although rarely prosecuted, the investigation was inspired by all the publicity the show has received leading up to the it's debut this Sunday. Lt. Darren Paul is quoted, "At the conclusion of the investigation, the evidence will be forwarded to the Utah County Attorney's Office for review and possible prosecution." Fines and prison time are the typical punishment for those bigamy cases that are prosecuted, with increased sentencing for each marriage.
A real-life Big Love, the show is centered around the life and times of the large family. 41 year-old Kody Brown, husband and father to the family says, "We are disappointed in the announcement of an investigation. But when we decided to do this show, we knew there would be risks. But for the sake of our family, and most importantly, our kids, we felt it was a risk worth taking." Or was it?
Bigamy is the act of knowingly entering into multiple marriages. A crime in every state, defenses to bigamy usually rest on a lack of knowledge, or a belief that a previous marriage was annulled. For the Sister Wives family, not only were all the marriages entered into willingly, but the family is making a public display of the illegal practice.
One additional legal aspect of the potential prosecution is the scope of the suit. A typical bigamy case usually only prosecutes one party to the marriages. But in much the same way that the family is unique in their public display of the practice, so too are the legal issues. Sects within the Mormon religion support the practice of taking on multiple wives, and the Brown family hoped to show how normal the lifestyle can be by allowing cameras to follow the life and times of the family. Now they may also be showing how illegal the lifesyle can be.