Maryland Criminal Attorney– This is a legal question that I am asked quite often, mostly by young men. The answer to the question is contained in the trite but partly true expression that “15 will get you 20”. The general rule is that the age at which a young person can legally consent to engage in vaginal intercourse, sexual contact, or a sexual act with another person is 16 years. There is an exception to this rule if the older participant (usually the man) is less than four years older than the girl. In other words, it may or may not be illegal for an 19 year old to have sex with a 15 year old or a 18 year old to have sex with a 14 year old depending upon when the participants birthdays occur. A violation of the statute only occurs if the participants’ birthdays are four years or more apart. (Note: under the sexual child abuse statute it is unlawful to engage in sexual conduct with a child under the age of 18 if the adult has temporary or permanent custody of the child. This subject is covered in greater detail in another blog).
The unusual part of the statute, as compared to most criminal statutes, is that it creates a strict liability standard. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t matter whether the child looked older than she really was, whether she told the offender that she was older than she really was or whether he reasonably believed she was older than she really was. The law states that if an adult 4 years or more older than the child under 16, engages in sexual conduct with that child, he is guilty – period. There is no knowledge or intent requirement under this statute hence the standard – strict liability.
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