Court of Appeals of Maryland - 632 A.2d 797
The case concerns the interpretation of Maryland's "statutory rape" law and whether the defendant's knowledge of the victim's age is necessary. The court ruled that consent and a good faith defense based on the victim's representation of her age are not defenses. The defendant was found guilty of second-degree rape and sentenced to probation and restitution. The trial court did not allow the defendant to raise the defense of reasonable mistake as to the complainant's age, which is a fundamental principle of criminal law. The creation of strict liability criminal offenses without requiring mens rea has been a trend, but modern scholars generally reject the concept of strict criminal liability. Statutory rape is a strict liability offense that carries the stigma of a felony and a potential sentence of 20 years in prison, which is markedly different from other strict liability regulatory offenses.
The dissenting opinion disagrees with both the majority and Judge Bell's dissenting opinion on the interpretation of Maryland Code (1957, 1992 Repl.Vol.), Art. 27, § 463(a)(3). The author of the opinion agrees with the majority that an ordinary mistake about the age of a sexual partner is not a defense to a prosecution under this statute, but they do not believe that the statute contains no mens rea requirement at all. The author argues that the trial judge was wrong to prevent exploration into the defendant's knowledge and comprehension, and that the statute is not entirely without a mens rea requirement. The law states that the mental ability to appreciate the risk of engaging in sexual activities with a young person is likely the mens rea of the offenses. The defendant should know that engaging in sexual activities with a young person is regarded as immoral and/or improper by society, and that consent by persons who are too young is ineffective.
The importance of mens rea or intent in criminal offenses, specifically in cases involving statutory rape, is emphasized in this article. While strict liability crimes, such as "public welfare" offenses, do not require intent, the court recognizes that intent is crucial in cases of statutory rape. The theories that justify strict criminal liability for statutory rape are examined, but the article acknowledges that a mistake of fact can negate the required mental state for a crime. In fact, mistake of age has been recognized as a defense to statutory rape by the California Supreme Court. This means that if a defendant reasonably believes that the minor has reached the age of consent, they can use it as a defense. Regardless of how a teenage girl appears, engaging in sexual intercourse with her is still considered rape because of the age of consent mandated by the law.
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