GA: Marry a Child Victim to Get Out of Jail, Freed of Statutory Rape Charges

According to the article below, in some states, including Georgia, a child can marry at any age – sometimes without parental consent – if the bride is pregant.

In such states, the policy favoring legitimizing children born out-of-wedlock has spawned an unintended byproduct: adults can evade prosecution or conviction for child molestation or statutory rape by marrying their child victims.

Under spousal privilege, prosecutors cannot compel one spouse to offer certain types of evidence against the other spouse in certain types of criminal proceedings.

A local Broward County woman has turned activist to try to change this Georgia law, which resulted in her niece marrying at age 13.

Georgia Examines Law That Allows Kids To Wed

by Greg Bluestein
Associated Press

Nov. 16, 2005

Ever since her 13-year-old niece wed a 14-year-old boy last year, Sharon Cline has sent lawmakers a slew of letters begging them to change a Georgia law that allows children of any age to marry – without parental consent – as long as the bride-to-be is pregnant.

“Some of the lawmakers just didn’t believe this could happen,” said Cline, who lives in Weston, Fla. “It was very frustrating.”

They’re believers now.

Lisa Lynnette Clark, 37, was charged last week in Gainesville with child molestation for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old friend of her teenage son. Just days before her arrest, she wed the boy under a Georgia law that allows pregnant couples to marry regardless of age and without consent.

Disturbed by the child groom, Georgia lawmakers may soon debate changing a law that many didn’t know even existed. Geared toward preventing out-of-wedlock births, the law dates back to at least the early 1960s.

“I never knew it was in the code until this morning,” Jerry Keen, the state’s House Majority Leader, said Tuesday. “Our legislative counsel – the lawyers who draft the laws – even had to look it up.”

Most states require minors to get their parents’ permission before they marry. And if a person is 16 or under, many states require approval from parents and the court. But some states allow minors to marry without parental consent in the event of a pregnancy or birth of a child, although the couple may have to get permission from a court.

Still, Keen and other leaders in the Republican-controlled Georgia Legislature stopped short of endorsing a change to the state’s marital requirements.

“It’s very difficult to govern by exception. You have to govern by rule,” Keen said.

Instead, Keen and Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams said the state’s GOP lawmakers will focus on passing stricter penalties for those convicted of child molestation. Keen said the legislation would require convicts to spend at least 25 years in prison and wear an electronic tracking device within the state’s borders after their release.

Democratic lawmakers, recently in the minority after more than a century in power, may hope a proposal to change the marriage standards will drive a wedge in the GOP majority.

State Rep. Karla Drenner said she plans to author a bill that would bar children under age 16 from marrying regardless of the circumstances or at least would require parental consent.

As the only openly gay elected official in Georgia’s state government, Drenner said the irony of the lax marriage standards for minors is not lost upon her – particularly a year after lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

“We’re protecting society from the perceived threat of homosexual marriage, which was already illegal,” she said. “But yet if you’re pregnant, you can get married – and it doesn’t matter if you’re 9 years old or 10 years old.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Sammons, Clark’s court-appointed attorney, said he likely will use the marriage as a shield to prevent the boy from testifying against Clark.

Sammons said his defense is also bolstered by a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricted prosecutors from using a wife’s taped statement to police to try to undermine her husband at a trial. The ruling, he said, will make it difficult for prosecutors to rely on a witness statement that the boy gave detectives.

For educational purposes only and not intended to infringe on Copyright 2005 Associated Press