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"The Devil (or the Judge) Made Me Do it." Marriage Under Duress

            A judge in Smith County recently ordered a criminal defendant to marry his girlfriend or go to jail. See Julia Jenaé Judge sentences East Texas man to get married or face jail time, KLTV, Aug. 18, 2015, available at http://www.kltv.com/story/29721876/judge-sentences-east-texas-man-to-get-married-or-face-jail-time. Briefly, the defendant Josten Bundy was involved in a fight with his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, and Bundy was arrested for assault. The judge asked Bundy if his girlfriend was “worth it,” then ordered him to marry her in 30 days as a term of Bundy’s probation. Despite the questionable Constitutionality of the order, the couple complied and had a wedding at the courthouse. While I don’t want to put any ideas in the happy couple’s heads, I do wonder if the judge has given them grounds for an annulment.

            Under Texas law, it may be possible to annul a marriage if it was entered into under duress. See Tex. Fam. Code § 6.107. The statute may bring to mind weddings urged (to put it mildly) by an angry father of the bride, as was the case of Gass v. Gass, 182 S.W. 1195 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1916), where the father of the bride along with a county deputy took the groom from his home and demanded the groom marry his daughter or face a charge of criminal seduction. Back then, such a practice was called a “military marriage.” The groom understood that the marriage would stop his criminal prosecution and so complied.

            The court determined that the marriage could not be annulled for duress because the stress came from the fear of the criminal prosecution and not entirely (if at all) from the threatening father-in-law to be. The groom knew of the pending charges against him, of his guilt or innocence, and that marriage would be a defense for a seduction charge. Thus the court held “he cannot now cancel the marriage and rid himself of his wife, as he did the prosecution, without showing a better reason for it than he has given in his petition.” Id. at 1196 (quoting Johns v. Johns, 44 Tex. 40, 42 (1875)).

            Of course, Bundy’s situation now is different from Gass’s almost 100 years ago. When getting into the fight with his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, Bundy could not have possibly known that he could later be forced to marry her. Marriage is not usually a defense to an assault charge or a punishment.

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