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Martin v. State - 31 Ala. App. 86 (Ala. Ct. App. 1943)

Rule:

A divorce decree found to be null and void is of necessity null and void from the date of its rendition and not from the date of a judicial decree adjudging it null and void.

Facts:

Defendant Homer W. Martin was indicted on a charge of bigamous cohabitation under Code 1940 (Sec. 47 of Title 14). At trial in Alabama state court, the State showed, and it was uncontested that, Martin married Era Martin in Etowah County in 1921, and lived with her until Jan. 1941, when he left her. Since then he lived in Etowah County with another woman whom he held out to be his wife. In defense, Martin produced a duly authenticated copy of a decree of a Tennessee Circuit Court dated May 10, 1941, divorcing him from Era. In response, the State produced a duly authenticated copy of a decree of the Tennessee Chancery Court dated Jan. 1942, declaring that the 1941 divorce decree was procured by fraud in that Martin falsified the length of time he lived in Tennessee prior to seeking the divorce. After a trial, a jury found Martin guilty. Martin appealed, arguing, inter alia, that the Tennessee decree setting aside the divorce decree was rendered after he was indicted and thus it was ineffective as to him. Martin further alleged that the marriage certificate for his second marriage was not properly certified and thus was insufficient to establish his second marriage.

Issue:

Could Martin be convicted of bigamous cohabitation under Alabama law notwithstanding the existence of an alleged divorce decree from a Tennessee court?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the trial court's judgment. The court ruled, inter alia, that the decree from the Tennessee chancery court was valid, and the court was required to afford that decree full faith and credit that Martin's divorce decree was rendered by a court not having jurisdiction over the divorce and that the divorce decree was utterly null and void and of no effect. The divorce decree having been declared so null and void was of necessity null and void from the date the decree was rendered, not from the date the chancery court declared it to be null and void. Thus, Martin's argument that the divorce was declared null and void after he had been indicted was without merit. As to Martin's claim regarding the marriage certificate, the court ruled that the crime charged could be committed by one who entered into a common law marriage, as well as by one who entered into a ceremonial marriage.

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