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.
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.Typically, the younger the child, the more serious the offense.
Second degree rape. A person commits the crime of second degree rape, the most serious statutory rape offense in Maryland, by engaging in sexual intercourse or a sexual act (anal sex, oral sex, or penetration) with a child under the age of 14 when the defendant is at least four years older. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-301, 3-304 (2018).)
Third degree sexual offense. A person commits the crime of third degree sexual offense, a less serious statutory rape charge, by:
(Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-301, 3-307 (2018).)
Fourth degree sexual offense. A person commits the crime of fourth degree sexual offense by engaging in intercourse or a sexual act with a child age 14 or 15 when the defendant is at least four years older the child. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-301, 3-308 (2018).)
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 administrator who has sex with a 17-year-old student could be convicted of sexual offense in the fourth degree under this statute. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code § 3-308 (2018).)
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. Child enticement is a felony, and a conviction can result in up to 25 years in prison and fines of as much as $5,000, or both. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code § 11-305 (2018).)
Statutory rape (rape in the second degree) is a felony and punishable by up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Sexual offense in the third degree is also a felony and punishable by up to ten years in prison. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-304, 3-307 (2018).)
Sexual offense in the fourth degree is a misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code § 3-308 (2018).)
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 prison. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code § 3-308 (2018).)
People in Maryland who are convicted a second or subsequent time for crimes involving sex with underage children can be sentenced to life imprisonment. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code § 3-313 (2018).)
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 (2018).)
Defendants charged with statutory rape have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as “Someone else committed this crime,” or “The alleged conduct did not occur.” However, under Maryland’s laws, there are other defenses that can apply to statutory rape cases.
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 engaging in a consensual sexual act with a 16-year-old, and a 15-year-old cannot be prosecuted for having consensual sex with a 13-year-old. However, sexual contact between someone who is 18 years of age or older and a child younger than 14 is always a felony, and a conviction can result in significant prison time. (Md. Ann. [Crim.] Code §§ 3-304, 3-307, 3-308 (2018).)
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 (2018).)
In Maryland, as in most states, the fact that the defendant mistakenly 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.
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.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or rape, contact Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) for online help and local resources.
Updated July 27, 2018