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Conviction Overturned for Polygamist FLDS Leader Warren Jeffs

Utah’s Supreme Court has reversed polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs’ conviction on two counts of rape as an accomplice and sent the case back for a new trial, saying there were “serious errors” in instructions given to the jurors considering his role in the 2001 marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin. Check out The Salt Lake Tribune and the Associated Press for the story; Religion Clause has more on the legal details.


Jeffs, 54, is currently serving two consecutive terms of five years to life in Utah State Prison. Similar charges against him in Arizona were dropped last month. He’s still facing charges of bigamy, sexual assault and aggravated assault in Texas; his attorney has said Jeffs plans to oppose extradition.

For more on Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS — not to be confused with the LDS Mormons), check out the Salt Lake Tribune’s Polygamy page.

Maybe I’ve watched too much Big Love, but polygamy and rape are illegal; why is it so hard to get convictions in these FLDS cases? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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posted July 28, 2010 at 8:31 am

Maybe we should be asking if there is something wrong with Utah’s courts, or is it just Utah protecting it’s own – LDS?
Just as it is not safe for modern women who believe in their own God-given rights in Muslim countries and societies, perhaps it is not safe in certain out of the normal cultures right here in the US. A sad commentary to think aobut.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 9:33 am

Saying that utah is protecting it’s own in the case of polygamy is like saying there are still gangs in Los Angeles because california is protecting it’s own.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm

As a lawyer, I feel obliged to READ decisions before commenting on them in depth, and haven’t had time to do so in this instance. But from what I heard on NPR, changing the erring instructions to what the appellate court thought they should have been wouldn’t have changed the result at all, which is the classical definition of what is known in the trade as “harmless error.” It will be interesting to watch this case on its way further up the chain.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Why is it so hard to get convictions in these FLDS cases?
For one thing, these FLDS colonies are usually involved in welfare fraud to begin with. Seeing as how only one marriage per man is considered valid, the rest are termed “spiritual marriages” for the sake of legality. Another issue is the women and young ones themselves are brainwashed to a large extent, so it’s hard to get them to testify. Even if they do see the writing on the wall, their entire lives, friends, and family structures are tied into these compounds. The wives in the Eldorado (East Texas) compound case where very reluctant to say anything bad.
As to why this particular case didn’t succeed, judges may have perceived it a bit of a stretch to charge Jeffs with accessory to rape because he used his influence to arrange marriage to an underage girl.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I don’t know enough about the law to know if this was a valid decision by the Utah State Supreme Court or not. However, my visceral reaction regarding Jeffs is unprintable. I’ve read “Under the Banner of Heaven,” and seen the marvelous documentary, “Sons of Perdition” about the teenage boys from the FLDS church who are exiled, in large part, so they won’t be able to compete with 60 year old men for teenaged girls.
I’ve also read Carolyn Jessop’s memoir, “Escape,” about how she got out of her polygamous marriage (and got custody of her children!) to one of the most powerful members of the FLDS church. The good news is that people are getting out of this church and helping their family members get out, too. I saw “Sons of Perdition” at a film festival but I hope it will come to the theaters soon, and highly recommend it along with the two books.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Once you break down the laws of traditional marriage then as far as I am concerned anything goes. If two adults of the same sex are allowed to “marry” because they love each other then why can’t three or four adults who love each other get married? Why is that a crime? I am certainly not defending underage marriage but I also think its possible in this crazy world that three adult women could all be in love with the same man and be content sharing him with the other wives.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Jeffs is fortunately still in jail, serving 2 life terms, so this is just another charge, which appears to not be a way to get him out of jail. As to these charges being overturned? It is Utah, after all and even though the LDS church has no connection to the FDLS, they are all still “Mormons” at heart.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 4:07 pm

correction: “……though the LDS church has no connection to the FLDS, they are all still “Mormons” at heart.”

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posted July 28, 2010 at 4:13 pm

These FLDS leaders make Aleister Crowley seem like a pussycat.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm

When can I marry my Dog? I want all marriage licenses to say Applicant One, Applicant Two, Applicant Three, etc. I refuse to Marry until I can Marry my Dog. In the mean time… I’ll just keep living in sin… thank you very much!

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posted July 28, 2010 at 7:14 pm

Frank, I tend to agree with you. Crowley had his faults, but at least he wasn’t marrying off young girls to old dudes.

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posted July 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

To Nicole: Though polygamy is illegal, these are difficult charges because the men don’t marry in the court system. .. they have their own marriages under their own religious ceremonies which aren’t actually “legal”– just religious, to them. So, although they believe they are in polygamous marriages, they don’t fall under bigamy laws. .. they wind up being consensual (indoctrinated brainwashing for the women, obviously) relationships.
When the women deny rape, as most of them wind up doing due to community pressure, they have a hard time finding these men guilty. Or, at the time, the women didn’t fight back, didn’t report it, didn’t complain, etc. .. so it’s not “rape” in the sense a jury understands. I think it’s rape and you think it’s rape and now the women might realize it’s rape, but at the time, they capitulated or didn’t claim rape, so it’s hard for these charges to stick.
The biggest issue is the child rape/child marriage. These should stick no matter what. .. but my thoughts on this are that some of these girls who were home-birthed do not have birth certificates. Or, they switch them. The authorities often don’t really know the girls’ ages and the girls’ and their mothers tell the authorities the girls were older. The age of consent in Utah or wherever may be younger than what we’re aware it is (i didn’t look this up). With parental consent, the girls can maybe get married at, what? 14? 16?
In the past, authorities have sometimes found the families guilty of welfare fraud. Many times the women apply for benefits for their families listing the men as part of the family, though the men are listed in several family cases as the fathers. .. so, they are claiming more benefits than they are legally supposed to. But, I’ve read accounts from some of the women involved with Jeffries and another guy from this FDLS and they say they did NOT get benefits and, though, some did– they were listed as single women households.
Just some thoughts on why these charges may not stick.

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