Maryland Sexual Offense Overview

Maryland’s sexual offense laws prohibit certain illegal sexual conduct. Essentially, the offenses are distinguished based upon the conduct that is committed and the circumstances under which the conduct was committed. Maryland’s sexual offenses can broadly be broken into three categories:

1) offenses that prohibit conduct based solely upon age differences (despite verbal or physical consent),

2) offenses that prohibit conduct based upon a lack of verbal or physical consent, and

3) offenses that prohibit conduct based upon the relationship of the individuals involved.

Rape in First or Second degree

The offenses § 3-303 Rape in the first degree and § 3-304 Rape in the second degree are offenses that involve sexual intercourse and “sexual acts” (Note that prior to being repealed effective Oct. 1, 2017, these offenses were known as Sexual offense in the first degree, and Sexual offense in the second degree, respectively.)

A “sexual act” is defined by § 3-301(d) as including analingus, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, and object penetration into another individual’s genital opening or anus for sexual gratification.

The similarity between these offenses is that they both prohibit one from engaging in vaginal intercourse or a “sexual act” with another by force, the threat of force, or without the consent of the other. The differences between these offenses involve the conditions under which this conduct is committed.

For example, Rape in the first degree is committed if the perpetrator also uses a dangerous weapon, inflicts serious physical injury, commits the crime while aided and abetted by another, etc. Rape in the second degree is committed if the victim is cognitively impaired, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.

Additionally, Rape in the second degree is committed (regardless of the conditions and regardless of verbal or physical consent) if the “victim” is under the age of 14 years and the person performing the act is at least 4 years older than the victim. Both offense carry a lifetime sex offender registration requirement (Tier III).

Sexual Offense in the Third or Fourth Degree

The offenses of § 3-307 Sexual offense in the third degree (felony) and § 3-308 Sexual offense in the fourth degree (misdemeanor) are offenses that prohibit sexual contact. Also like the rape offenses, these offenses prohibit sexual intercourse and “sexual acts,” but under different circumstances.

(SEXUAL CONTACT) Both offenses prohibit sexual contact with another without the consent of the other; however, Sexual offense in the third degree further punishes such conduct if the perpetrator uses a dangerous weapon, inflicts serious physical injury, commits the crime while aided and abetted by another, etc. Additionally, Sexual offense in the third degree prohibits sexual contact if the victim is under the age of 14 years, and the person performing the sexual contact is at least 4 years older than the victim (regardless of the conditions and regardless of verbal or physical consent).

(SEXUAL INTERCOURSE AND SEXUAL ACTS) The second major difference between these offenses has to do with the age difference between the persons (regardless of verbal or physical consent). Sexual offense in the fourth degree prohibits sexual intercourse and “sexual acts” with another if the victim is 14 or 15 years old and the person performing the act is at least 4 years older than the victim. However, if the person performing sexual intercourse or the sexual act is at least 21 years old, he or she would be committing Sexual offense in the third degree (felony).

A “sexual act” is defined by § 3-301(d) as including analingus, cunnilingus, fellatio, anal intercourse, and object penetration into another individual’s genital opening or anus for sexual gratification.

(PENALTIES & SEXUAL OFFENDER REGISTRATION) The 4th degree offense is a 4th degree misdemeanor, is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both (unless prior convictions are involved), and carries a 15-year registration requirement (Tier I).

The 3rd degree offense is a 3rd degree felony, is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, and can carry either a 25-year registration requirement (Tier II) or a lifetime registration requirement (Tier III) depending upon the factors involved in the crime.

Sexual Abuse of a Minor, and Continuing Course of Conduct with Child

Two other commonly charged offenses are § 3-315 Continuing course of conduct with child which punishes prolonged sexual conduct with a child under 14 years of age, and § 3-602 Sexual abuse of a minor which punishes certain sex acts performed on a child where the perpetrator is a family member or household member.

Other Offenses Involving “Minors”

Although the above laws delineate the ages of persons with whom one can legally consent to physical sexual conduct with, these age constraints strangely are not applicable to a few other Maryland laws regarding sexually explicit activity. Because Maryland law still considers a minor to be a person less than 18 years of age, the below acts are illegal when involving a “minor.”

§ 11-207(a)(2). Child pornography – A person may not photograph or film a minor engaging in an obscene act, sadomasochistic abuse, or sexual conduct.

§ 11-208. Possession of visual representation of child under 16 engaged in certain sexual acts – A person may not knowingly possess and intentionally retain a film, videotape, photograph, or other visual representation showing an actual child under the age of 16 years: (1) engaged as a subject of sadomasochistic abuse; (2) engaged in sexual conduct; or (3) in a state of sexual excitement.

§ 11-203. Sale or display of obscene item to minor – A person may not willfully or knowingly display or exhibit to a minor an item: (i) the cover or content of which is principally made up of an obscene description or depiction of illicit sex; or (ii) that consists of an obscene picture of a nude or partially nude figure.

SOURCES: See links in content to reveal the sources from which this information was based upon. Laws used in the writing of this page are current through all legislation from the 2019 Regular Session of the General Assembly.

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