Until recently, a conviction for the crime of Fourth (4th) Degree Sexual Offense (CR §3-308) in the State of Maryland was considered a minor misdemeanor and an offender was not required to register as a sex offender on the Maryland State Sex Offender Registry. The judge had complete discretion over who would be required to register and could weigh all of the facts and evidence specific to each case to determine if it was appropriate under the circumstances. It allowed our system of criminal justice to work the way it was designed, with judicial discretion, attorney advocacy for clients and without administrative penalties driving the train behind criminal trials. Well, times of changed. Whether good, bad or indifferent, the Maryland State Legislature recently changed the playing field by amending the registry reporting requirements for the offense of Fourth Degree Sexual Offense. It took discretion away from the Maryland Judges and now makes having an experienced attorney on your side more important than ever. So, be forewarned: the charge has teeth, and it will bite.
I will not reprint the entire Stature, but the gist Sexual Offense in the Fourth Degree (CR §3-308) states that any person, or "person in a position of authority" (principal, vice principal, teacher or school counselor), may not engage in sexual contact with another without the consent of the other (see Maryland Criminal Laws Annotated, LexisNexis 2012 ed.). "Sexual Contact" is further defined in §3-301 and can be ANY touching of an "intimate" area of another, and valid "consent" may depend on the age of the victim or the relationship to the accused. The penalty for this crime, as a first offender, is imprisonment not exceeding 1 year or a fine not exceeding $1,000.00 or both. The penalty is greater for anyone with a prior sexual offense conviction.
The Maryland Sexual Offense Registry requirements and other information can be reviewed at http://dls.state.md.us/data/polanasubare/polanasubare_coucrijusncivmat/Sex-Offenders.pdf or http://www.dpscs.state.md.us/onlineservs/sor/frequently_asked_questions.shtml. If you are charged and convicted of Sexual Offense in the Fourth Degree you will be considered an "offender" and required to register for fifteen (15) years on the Registry. The Registry is a public database and can be accessed online by anyone. The only way to prevent registration and reporting is to prevent a conviction in the first place.
My reason for writing this blog is not to debate the importance of the Statute, nor is it to take a personal position on the change in reporting requirements. That could be the subject of a book, not a blog. The purpose might be that knowlege is prevention, as much as it might be to those charged, "get a lawyer and do not take it lightly." Nonetheless, I handled a case recently involving a teacher and his former student that demanded knowledge of this Statute inside and out. It required the ability to successfully argue it to defend my client. In the end, the judge agreed and a just result was reached: I prevented the conviction and my client's name from appearing on the registry. With the change in the Maryland State reporting requirements, this was no longer a simple misdemeanor case anymore. Even where the allegations were not the most serious, it became a misdemeanor case where a conviction for my client could have been devastating and life changing.
If you are charged with Sexual Offense in the Fourth Degree, you need a lawyer immediately. The specific facts of each case will determine available defenses in a case, including, the age of the alleged victim, relationship with the accused, nature of the alleged act(s), and prior criminal history of the accused. We have the knowledge and experience handling these cases. Do not wait to get bit in the end.
Contact our office at 301-668-1341 if you would like to discuss your case or this type of criminal charge with an experienced attorney.