Texas Man Sentenced to Marriage in Assault Case

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 11, 2015

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A judge in East Texas issued an unusual sentence last week by forcing a 20-year-old defendant to choose between 15-days in jail or a lifetime of marriage to his 19-year-old girlfriend.  The unique sentence also required counseling and regular recitation of Bible verses, and raises questions about the power judges have over criminal sentencing.

Judge Sentences Texas Man to Marriage

Judge Randall Rogers presided over the assault case of defendant Josten Bundy, a 20-year-old who was in court after punching the ex-boyfriend of his 19-year-old girlfriend Elizabeth Jaynes.  According to Bundy, Jaynes’s ex had been disrespecting her in public causing the defendant to challenge him to a fight.  After the ex-boyfriend agreed to the fight Bundy hit him in the jaw twice to end the altercation.  Although no medical attention was required, the victim pressed charges against Bundy for assault and he was brought before Judge Rogers who gave the defendant a simple choice: 15 days in jail or probation with marriage as the key condition.

According to court documents, Rogers asked Bundy if Jaynes was “worth it” before offering him probation over a short jail term.  When questioned about the trial by the media, Bundy recalled his response to the Judge: “I said, well to be honest, sir, I was raised with four sisters and if any man was talking to a woman like that I’d probably do the same thing.”  Despite Bundy’s indication that he would fight any man who disparaged a woman, Judge Rogers determined that the young man’s connection to his girlfriend was not only the cause of the violent altercation, but not strong enough to justify fighting on her behalf.

In order for Bundy to avoid spending two weeks in jail, Judge Rogers forced the young man to strengthen his commitment to the women he claimed to defend through marriage within 30 days of the trial.  Bundy was also ordered to regularly write Bible verses and receive anger management counseling.  Bundy, who was afraid he’d lose his job if he missed two weeks due to a jail sentence, agreed to the conditions and married Jaynes in justice of the peace wedding as required, but the new couple and their family expressed concerns about Judge Roger’s authority after the ruling.

Texas Couple Sentenced to Marriage Questions Ruling

Elizabeth Jaynes, the forced bride of Judge Rogers’s ruling, told members of the media after the sentencing that not only was she embarrassed in the courtroom by the judge’s order, but also that her dream wedding was made impossible by it.  Jaynes said of the forced nuptials, “It just felt like we weren’t going to be able to have the wedding we wanted.  It was just going to be kind of pieced together, I didn’t even have a white dress.”  In accordance with the judge’s orders, the couple got married within 30 days of the ruling without the standard attire or entourage as none of Bundy’s family members were able to attend on such short notice.

After the marriage and sentence had been carried out, family members of the couple expressed their displeasure at the ruling.  According to Kenneth Jaynes, Elizabeth’s father, the family was angry and considered contacting lawyers to file an appeal before the marriage was carried out.  While judges in the American legal system are granted significant deference in their sentencing, Judge Roger’s decision to compel marriage at the threat of jail time is probably a step too far. 

Marriage as a condition of probation is not simply an unusual exercise of judicial power, but a questionable test of the authority that judges are trusted with.  Had Bundy appealed it is likely his sentence would have been avoided, and the public attention brought to the case could bring increased scrutiny on the actions of low-level criminal judges.

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