BIGAMY, in the canon law, means being twice married; in the common acceptation of the word, as a term of ordinary law, it means the being married to two wives or husbands at the same time. The laws relating to plurality of wives or husbands might be supposed to come strictly under the head of polygamy; but, as it constitutes an offense against these laws to have more than one husband or wife, they are usually brought under that of bigamy. The laws of every civilized society make some pro vision respecting this subject. By the statute of 4 Edward I, scat. 3, cap. 5, the marrying of a second husband or wife, the first being alive, was made felony; and by that of 2 James I, cap. 11, this crime was made punishable by death. But the same statute provided that, where either party was absent beyond seas for seven years, whether known or not known to the other party to be alive, or was absent, though not beyond seas, for the same period and not known by the other party to be alive, the other party was at liberty to marry again. Now, however, one of the parties is not held guiltless unless the other was absent continu ously for seven years and was not known to be alive. The penalty has been lessened by subsequent enactments, and the guilty party is now liable to penal servitude for seven years or not less than five, or to be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not more than two. Every person aiding or abetting the bigamist is held to be equally guilty and may receive the same punishment. By a Scottish statute of 1551 bigamy was made punishable as perjury — that is, with confiscation of goods, imprison ment and infamy; now imprisonment is the usual sentence, but in some cases penal servi tude is inflicted. If the accused had reasonable ground for believing the first spouse dead, he is not guilty of the crime; and if the first marriage was void for any reason or dissolved by divorce, the second is not bigarnous. In
Scottish law, too, it is not necessary that either marriage should be regular for bigamy to be committed. The statute of James I has been adopted in most of the United States as to the description of the crime, but the State laws generally differ from it as to the penalty, hav ing assigned, heretofore, instead of death, as provided by the English statute, the punish ment of imprisonment and hard labor for a number of years, according. to the discretion of the court; others leaving it to the verdict of the jury to fix the period of imprisonment.
The New York statutes against bigamy are substantially similar to those in nearly all the States of the Union. These statutes provide that any person who, having a husband or wife living, marries another person, is guilty of big amy and is punishable in State's prison or a penitentiary for not more than five years. The statute does not extend to a person whose former husband or wife has been absent for five years successively, without being lmown to him or her within that time to be living and believed by him or her to be dead, or to a person whose former marriage has been pro nounced void or annulled or dissolved by the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction for a cause other than his or her adultery, or to a person who, being divorced for his or her adultery, has received from the court which pronounced the divorce permission to marry again, or to a person whose former husband or wife has been sentenced to imprisonment for life. A person who knowingly enters into a marriage with another which is prohibited to the latter by the statute is punishable by im prisonment for not more than five years, or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. Consult Stephen, 'Digest of the Criminal Law' (5th ed., London 1894) ; Phillmore, (Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England' (London 1895); Eversley, (Law of the Domestic Rela tions> (London 18%).