State v. Lynch, 31

Citation301 N.C. 479,272 S.E.2d 349
Decision Date02 December 1980
Docket NumberNo. 31,31
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Carolina
Parties, 13 A.L.R.4th 1317 STATE of North Carolina v. James Roberts LYNCH.

Chester A. Wilson, the father of Sandra Lynch, performed the 28 October 1973 marriage ceremony between defendant and his daughter at the request of defendant. At the time he performed the ceremony, Wilson was-and still is-a lay member of the Roman Catholic Church and ran a mail order business. He also held the "credentials of minister" of the Universal Life Church, Inc. of Modesto, California. Wilson produced an eight by eleven inch certificate to that effect on which appeared the following printed matter:

                Headquarters: 1766 Poland, Modesto, Calif. 95351. 537-0553
                of Minister

This is to certify that the bearer hereof CHESTER A. WILSON of WINSTON SALEM State or Province of NORTH CAROLINA has been ordained by Universal Life Church, Inc. this day 7 January 1973,

Board Members

Auddie A. Gardner

Rev. Susetta Lykins

Al DeBettencourt

Lida G. Hensley, Secretary


President-Kirby J. Hensley, D.D.

To obtain these credentials of minister, Wilson mailed his name, address and ten dollars to the California headquarters. He has never been through any further proceedings or training with the Universal Life Church, Inc. Wilson applied for membership after becoming a born-again Christian and does not use his Universal Life Church, Inc., affiliation for tax purposes. He officiates over no church. According to Wilson, the Universal Life Church, Inc., has seven million ministers and permits memberships in any other religious organization, a consequence of which is his continued participation in the activities of his local parish of the Roman Catholic Church. Wilson stated, "the Universal Life Church will ordain anyone without question of his or her faith for life." Wilson has not performed any ceremony of marriage other than the one between defendant and his daughter.

On 8 July 1978, Clayton H. Persons, an ordained minister of the Moravian Church, performed a ceremony of marriage between Mary Alice Bovender and defendant at the home of the bride. The ceremony was that customary in the Moravian Church. Persons performed the ceremony with the knowledge that a lay Catholic person performed some ceremony between defendant and another. According to Persons, such a ceremony would be very clearly invalid under Moravian Church doctrine and under Roman Catholic doctrine as verified to Persons by two local priests of the Roman Catholic Church. Persons could not recall when defendant told him the lay Roman Catholic was also a member of the Universal Life Church, Inc., and he could not remember being told the man was an "ordained minister" of the Universal Life Church, Inc. Persons stated: "If Mr. Lynch had told me that the person who performed the first marriage and who claimed to be an ordained minister was a lay member of the Roman Catholic Church, I would have performed the ceremony; and in fact, I did do so."

Defendant's evidence consisted of his own testimony and literature concerning the Universal Life Church, Inc. Defendant's testimony and significant information from the document can be summarized as follows.

Defendant lived with Sandra Lynch for five years-one before the 23 October 1973 ceremony and four years afterwards. Defendant intended the 1973 ceremony to be a marriage and he considered Sandra his wife until their November 1977 breakup. He had not seen Wilson's credentials of minister. Wilson did tell defendant he had such a certificate which he got through the mail from California. He did not know that Wilson, with whom he cursed, drank and gambled on cards and dogs, considered himself a born-again Christian. Both the 1973 and 1978 ceremonies were done freely and voluntarily on defendant's part. Based on conversations with Persons and his attorney, he considered the first marriage null and void. Defendant claimed the first knowledge he had that Sandra Lynch felt she was still married to him was when he was arrested for bigamy. The State, on cross-examination, introduced a letter dated 19 April 1978 to Sandra Lynch from defendant's attorney which read in part:

Please be advised that I have been retained by your husband, James Robert Lynch, to obtain a final decree of divorce for him. I have enclosed a special power of attorney for your signature which would allow Mr. Lynch to obtain a divorce in the Dominican Republic without the necessity of court costs and an action here in North Carolina. If you are in agreement, please sign the enclosed in the presence of a notary public and return the form to me in the enclosed envelope.

In the event you do not sign this form and return it to me, it will be necessary for me to file an action here in North Carolina and obtain a final decree of divorce through the courts here in Forsyth County. I am sure that you can see that signing the form and obtaining the divorce in the Dominican Republic would save everyone involved time and expense.

Defendant presented a front and back printed circular entitled "The Universal Life Church," under which appeared a California address. The circular contained a clip-out coupon to send for ordination. Among the large print type statements are the following: "FREEDOM! The Universal Life Church believes only in what is right ... and every person has the right to decide what is right for him; We have 7 Million Ministers and over 30,000 Churches; We are one Church! Advocates of the Good Life; Our Goal-A fuller life for everyone; Our Objective-Eternal progression; Our Slogan-To live and help live." Within the finer print appears the following:

The Universal Life Church, Inc. has no traditional doctrine. We, as an organization, only believe in that which is RIGHT. Each individual has the privilege and responsibility to determine what is RIGHT for him/her as long as it does not infringe on the RIGHTS of others. We do not stand between you and your God. We are active advocates of the First Amendment of the United States of America....

The ULC will ordain anyone, without question of his/her faith, for life. We ordain them according to St. John 15:16. ULC ministers have the authority to officiate at marriages, baptismals, funerals, conduct church meetings, administer "last rites." Every right and privilege accorded other ministers is accorded the ULC minister. We do not require you to give up your membership with any other church to be a minister of the ULC, Inc. REMEMBER-a church is PEOPLE, not a building. Church meetings may be held in your home, apartment, on top of a mountain, in a park or wherever the Board of Directors decide. The meeting place may or may not be owned by the church. A church function can take place "wherever two or more people are gathered together." There is no obligation to have a special building to perform marriages, funerals, baptisms, etc. We urge that you strive to have a building at sometime for your services, a building of your own.

According to the circular offered in evidence at trial of this case, the twenty-seven titles offered by the Universal Life Church, Inc., include that of Archpriest, Bishop, Dervish, Guru, Rev. Mother, Preceptor, Brahman and Universal Religious Philosopher. Among the courses offered by Universal Life Church, Inc., are a course resulting in an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree (DD) for $20.00, a course resulting in a Doctor of Universal Life degree (DUL) for $15.00, a course entitled "the SOUL Clinic" (Science of Understanding Life) for $100.00, a course resulting in a Doctor of Religious Science degree (DRS) for $35.00, a course on American Church Law and Parliamentary Procedure which teaches the legal rules and principles concerning separation of church and state which results in a Doctor of Religious Humanities degree (DRH) for $40.00 and a course which results in a Doctor of Metaphysics degree (MSD) for $10.00. A Doctor of Philosophy of Religion is given for $100.00. The circular contains a "suggested ULC marriage service" and information regarding church charters and religious exemptions from tax and social security. All titles are bestowed without question upon any person who remits the indicated amount.

Upon this evidence, the jury convicted defendant of bigamy. The Court of Appeals found no error with Wells, J., dissenting. Defendant appealed to the Supreme Court as of right pursuant to G.S. 7A-30(2).

Rufus L. Edmisten, Atty. Gen. by Norma S. Harrell, Associate Atty. Gen., Raleigh, for the State.

Eubanks, Walden & Mackintosh by Bruce A. Mackintosh, Winston-Salem, for defendant appellant.

HUSKINS, Justice:

The question we address upon this appeal is whether the evidence of the crime of bigamy is sufficient to withstand defendant's motion for nonsuit. We hold the evidence insufficient to go to the jury, and defendant's motion for nonsuit should have been granted.

Upon a motion for nonsuit in a criminal action, all of the evidence favorable to the State, whether competent or incompetent, must be considered. Such evidence must be taken as true and considered in the light most favorable to the State. Discrepancies and contradictions are disregarded, and the State is entitled to every inference of fact which may reasonably be deduced therefrom. State v. Witherspoon, 293 N.C. 321, 237 S.E.2d 822 (1977). The test is the same whether the evidence is circumstantial, direct or both. State v. McKnight, 279 N.C. 148, 181 S.E.2d 415 (1971). If the evidence is sufficient only to raise a suspicion or conjecture, the motion for nonsuit should be allowed. "This is true even though the suspicion so aroused by the evidence is strong." State v. Cutler, 271 N.C. 379, 383, 156 S.E.2d 679, 682 (1967).

Bigamy is a statutory crime in all fifty states. See Slovenko, The De Facto Decriminalization of Bigamy, 17 J. of Fam.L. 297, 307-08 (1979) (Appendix contains list of bigamy sta...

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