It’s common for age of consent laws and Romeo and Juliet laws to get a little muddy. Maryland has largely avoided this confusion with straightforward, consistent age parameters. Here are how these laws break down as they currently stand.
Age of consent
This refers to the minimum age at which an individual is judged competent enough to legally consent to sexual activities. Each state in the U.S. has laws regarding age of consent, ranging from 16 to 18 years old. For Maryland, the age of consent is 16.
What are Romeo and Juliet laws?
Modeled after the relationship of the famously young Shakespearean lovers Romeo and Juliet, some states have laws protecting consensual sex between a minor and another minor – or someone close in age.
The quick rule in Maryland is if the age difference between the participants is three years or less, their sexual activities won’t be considered statutory rape. For example, if a 17-year-old has consensual sex with a 14-year-old, no law is broken. But sex between an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old is a crime.
This chart cleanly breaks down Maryland’s age of consent laws.
Maryland’s Romeo and Juliet laws
So, the answer is yes, Maryland does have Romeo and Juliet laws.
That said, even though clear-cut statutory rape does not involve violence and therefore has lighter penalties, it’s important to know that these laws have no wiggle room. Maryland is notably aggressive when prosecuting sex crimes, so allegations should be taken seriously.
Punishments for statutory rape in Maryland depend on the severity of the charges and the age difference, with a maximum of 10 years in prison for third-degree rape (when the child is 14 or 15) and up to 20 years for second-degree rape (when the child is 13 or younger).
What about mistake-of-age exceptions?
“Mistake of age” refers to situations when the person accused of statutory rape claims that the minor lied about their age, looked older, or the circumstances of their encounter suggested they were of age, like if they met at a party where people are presumed to be at least 18.
Maryland observes “strict liability” when prosecuting statutory rape, meaning they do not accept a mistake-of-age defense.