Some people incorrectly see statutory rape as one of the more obvious and clearly defined sex crimes in criminal law. Under this view, it seems easy to prove an offense in statutory rape cases, because any adult who has consensual sexual contact with a minor is guilty of statutory rape. “Statutory” rape is so named because it refers to a rape that is a violation of the victim’s protected status—their age—rather than a violation of consent, which is the usual standard for defining rape in most other cases.
What many people do not understand is that the exact parameters of statutory rape—the age of majority, the age of consent, so-called “Romeo and Juliet” laws, the exact criteria for establishing consent, and other details both important and subtle—can be extremely different from state to state. This means that statutory rape cases, like any other criminal proceeding, can become extremely complex. They usually necessitate the services of a quality criminal defense lawyer.
Many states, including Maryland, do not even have a specific offense in their laws that is actually called “statutory rape.” In Maryland, statutory rape situations are subject to specific regulations as to the age of the victim and perpetrator. If a statutory rape case in Maryland is deemed prosecutable, those charges would fall under a second-, third-, or fourth-degree sexual offense rather than “statutory rape.”
Under Maryland’s state laws, there are certain sexual acts or behaviors that are forbidden for all persons under a certain age. Whether or not the parties involved have agreed to these acts (consent), it is not relevant if the parties are too young to be legally engaging in sexual activity.
The cutoff age in Maryland is 16 years old. However, in Maryland and other states, matters become slightly more complex than simply knowing the age of consent. This is because the victim must also be 4 or more years younger than the perpetrator to qualify as a sex crime.
This general rule (that the victim must be under 16 and at least 4 years younger than the other party) is not specific to any particular sexual behavior but is broadly applicable to sex acts in Maryland. When a sex act meets this age criteria, statutory rape charges may be brought against the elder party.
Specific charges and sentencing for Maryland statutory rape and other sex crimes cases can be quite complex. Maryland uses a table that references the ages of both victim and perpetrator to determine what charges would be brought in a particular statutory rape case. This will vary based on the specific nature of the statutory rape charges. However, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to mitigate how this is defined. The particular definitions of these different sex crimes charges in Maryland that might apply to statutory rape cases are covered in Maryland Criminal Law Code section 3-301. Other sections of the criminal code may apply, as well as federal laws, depending on the specific details and nature of a particular statutory rape case.
To give some examples, if the offending sex act is vaginal intercourse, the charges can vary greatly depending on the ages of the parties involved:
Other specific classifications such as “sexual contact” (which covers the touching of private areas for purposes of pleasure or abuse) and “sexual act” (which covers situations like oral sex) have their own tables for determining charges and sentencing. Penalties for a statutory rape case in Maryland can therefore range from misdemeanors that result in no jail time to felonies carrying serious jail time. It all depends on the exact nature of the sex act that was engaged in and the ages of those involved.
Using these sorts of guidelines helps determine which charges should be brought against defendants to help ensure equal justice for all under Maryland law. However, there are occasions where statutory rape charges can be increased, potentially leading to more serious punishments. This can be the case when the younger party (i.e., the victim) did not consent to the activity or if they were mentally handicapped or incapacitated.
A highly qualified Maryland criminal lawyer can help ensure that you are treated fairly under the law. If you have been implicated in a Columbia statutory rape case or accused of other sex crimes, it is best to contact an attorney as quickly as possible to secure your rights.
When trying to determine if a particular sexually active relationship is legal, it is important to remember the 4-year age difference stipulation.
Although a 15-year-old is legally a child and an 18-year-old has reached the age of majority, the age difference between the two is less than the 4-year threshold. If a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old engage in consensual sexual activity, then the elder partner has not committed any crime under Maryland law.
The whole situation can change by adjusting the age of either partner by a single year, however. A 19-year-old sleeping with a 15-year-old or an 18-year-old sleeping with a 13-year-old would both qualify as a 4th degree sexual offense. This is a misdemeanor sex crime that can be prosecuted under Maryland law.
It is important to consider that you and the person you are dating likely do not have the same birthday. Although you may currently have a 3-year age difference, there could be other times of the year where your age difference would be legally calculated as 4 years, depending on where each partner’s birthday falls in the calendar year.
Young, sexually active Maryland residents are protected by a so-called “Romeo and Juliet Law.” The “Romeo and Juliet Law” in Maryland’s case codifies the 4-year age difference threshold.
Romeo and Juliet laws are designed to decriminalize consensual sex acts between people who are relatively close in age, even though one partner might be legally considered a child and the other a legal adult. In some states, partners must be within 3 years of one another to be protected by “Romeo and Juliet” statutes. In Maryland, the window is a bit wider, at 4 years of age difference.
Some critics of the Romeo and Juliet laws misunderstand them as promoting childhood sex acts. Worse, they may fear that such laws enable adults who wish to prey on children. In reality, Romeo and Juliet laws such as Maryland’s 4-year age tolerance protect young people from undue legal consequences.
As an example, suppose two 17-year-olds are dating in a state with no Romeo and Juliet-type laws on the books. If these partners are regularly sexually active, then the elder partner will be guilty of rape once they turn 18, even though the sexual activity is consensual. Romeo and Juliet laws help ensure that young people are not needlessly prosecuted and branded as rapists and sex criminals for simply having consensual relationships with people in their own age group.
The Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, PA: Your Trusted Criminal Defense Attorneys in Columbia, Maryland
Accusations of statutory rape or other sex crimes can ruin your reputation, your relationships, and your entire life if they are not dealt with effectively. No matter what you have been accused of, you deserve to have the full story told in a court of law like any other American citizen.
The Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, PA, can go through every detail of your case and use every possible tool to build the perfect legal defense for your situation. From our offices in Columbia and Glen Burnie, we believe in a totally individualized approach to criminal defense. This means we look at each case with individual care and craft the best possible strategy to help put your legal nightmare behind you as quickly and efficiently as possible. We believe in using the full extent of legal tools available to our clients’ advantage. We can use our vast experience and all available legal resources to aggressively pursue the best possible outcomes for your Columbia statutory rape case.
We can help end this hurtful and stressful chapter of your life, giving you the chance to move on. Contact our offices today for a judgment-free consultation.
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Glen Burnie, MD 21061
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10440 Little Patuxent Parkway,
Columbia, MD 21044