People who engage in sexual activity with children under the age of 16 (the age of consent under Maryland law) can be convicted of statutory rape or similar crimes. Maryland also has laws prohibiting sexual relations between teachers or other school employees and students under the age of 18.
For more information on statutory rape, see Statutory Rape Laws, Charges, and Punishments.
In statutory rape cases, the determinative fact is whether the child is underage. It does not matter if the child consents to or initiates the sexual activity. People who engage in sexual acts against others without their consent can, of course, be prosecuted and convicted of other crimes, such as sexual assault, assault, or battery.
Maryland has several different laws that criminalize engaging in sexual behavior with a child. First, a person commits the crime of second degree rape, the most serious statutory rape offense in Maryland, by engaging in sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 14 when the defendant is at least four years older. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-304, 3-310.)
A person who engages in a sexual act (oral and anal sex and genital penetration) with a child under the age of 14 when the defendant at least four years older than the victim commits the crime of sexual offense in the second degree in Maryland. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-301, 3-306, 3-312.)
Finally, a person commits the crime of third degree sexual offense, the least serious statutory rape charge, by:
- engaging in intercourse or a sexual act with a child age 14 or 15 when the defendant is over the age of 21, or
- engaging in sexual contact (genital touching short of penetration) with a child under the age of 14 when the defendant is at least four years older than the child.
(Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-301, 3-307.)
The “Romeo and Juliet” exception
In many states, including Maryland, lawmakers have enacted “Romeo and Juliet” exceptions to protect young people from criminal charges for engaging in consensual sexual activity with others close to their own age. For example, under Maryland's laws, a 19-year-old cannot be prosecuted for having sex with a 16-year-old, and a 15-year-old cannot be prosecuted for having sex with a 13-year-old. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-304, 3-306, 3-307.)
Teachers and School Employees
It is also a criminal offense in Maryland for teachers and other school employees over the age of 21 to engage in sexual activity with school students under the age of 18 who are under the authority of the defendant. For example, a 26-year-old school administration who has sex with a 17-year-old student could be convicted under this statute. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code § 3-308.)
In Maryland, people who invite or urge children under the age of 18 to engage in unlawful sexual conduct (such as statutory rape) may be convicted of child enticement, even if no sexual conduct ever occurs between the defendant and the child.
For more information on this crime, see Child Enticement Laws in Maryland.
Marriage. It is a defense to a charge of statutory rape or sexual offense with an underage person that, at the time of the crime, the defendant and the victim were married. The defense, part of the marital rape exemption, only applies to consensual sexual activity. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code § 3-318.)
For more information, see Maryland Marital Rape Laws.
Defendant’s belief in the child’s age. In Maryland, as in most states, the fact that the defendant believed the child to be of age is not a defense to statutory rape or a similar crime. For example, even if the child lied about his or her age to the defendant and others, that would provide no defense to the crime if, in fact, the child is underage.
Statutory rape and second degree sexual offense are punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Sexual offense in the third degree is punishable by up to ten years in prison.
Teachers or school employees who engage in sexual activities with students can be sentenced to up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both jail and a fine. Second convictions are punishable by up to three years in state prison.
People in Maryland who are convicted a second or subsequent time for crimes involving sex with underage children may be sentenced to life imprisonment.
(Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-304, 3-306, 3-307, 3-308, 3-313.)
Sex Offender Registration
In Maryland, people who are convicted of statutory rape and related crimes are required to register as sex offenders for at least 15 years. Registered offenders must provide personal information to local law enforcement agents every few months. Although Maryland does not impose residency restrictions for sex offenders, sex offender registration can make it difficult, or even impossible, to find a job.
(Md. Ann. [Crim. Proc.] Code §§ 11-701, 11-704.)
Obtaining Legal Assistance
If you are charged with a crime as a result of engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of consent, you should talk to a Maryland criminal defense attorney. Any criminal conviction can have extremely serious and lasting consequences, but a conviction for a sex crime against a child can have particularly severe consequences. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and how to best protect your rights.