Definition of Abuse in Maryland
Abuse takes many forms under the detailed statutory scheme in Maryland. Generally, abuse is defined as “physical injury sustained by a minor as a result of cruel or inhumane treatment or as a result of a malicious act under circumstances that indicate that the minor’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened by the treatment or act” (Code of Maryland, Criminal Law, § 3-601).
First degree child abuse occurs when a parent or guardian of a child abuses the child in a manner that results in the death of the child or causes severe physical injury to the child. A “child” is any person under the age of 18 years old. “Severe physical injury” includes brain damage, cranial bleeding, starvation, disfigurement, impairment or failure of any bodily member or organ, or any injury that carries a substantial risk that the child will die as a result. First degree child abuse is a felony, punishable by up to 25 years of imprisonment. If the child dies from his or her injuries, the maximum sentence is increased to 30 years.
Second degree child abuse occurs when the child is abused by a household member or family member other than a parent or guardian, or when a parent or guardian causes a non-severe physical injury. The term “household member” includes persons who have a regular presence in the child’s household. The person need not live in the child’s household. The term “family member” includes anyone related to the child by blood, adoption, or marriage. Second degree child abuse is also a felony, punishable by up to fifteen years of imprisonment. For a second or subsequent offense, the maximum penalty is increased to 25 years.
Sexual abuse of a minor occurs when a parent, guardian, family member, or household member engages in sexual molestation or exploitation of a child. Sexual abuse of a minor does not require that the child suffer any sort of physical injury (Code of Maryland, Criminal Law, § 3-602). The definition of sexual abuse includes incest, rape, sodomy, any sexual offense, and “unnatural or perverted sexual practices.” A violation of this statute also carries a penalty of up to 25 years’ imprisonment.
Abuse takes forms other than physical or sexual as well. For example, a person is prohibited from selling, bartering, or trading a minor for money, property, or anything else of value, and from offering to do so (Code of Maryland, Criminal Law, § 3-603). A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000.00, or both.
Finally, the abuse statutes do not protect only children, as the law also prohibits the neglect or abuse of a vulnerable adult living in a person’s household. A “vulnerable adult” is a person who lacks the ability to meet his own daily needs, due to a mental or physical impairment. “Neglect” is considered to include the failure to provide food, essential medical treatment, clothing, shelter, toileting, shelter, or supervision. Any person who engages in the neglect or abuse of a vulnerable adult, leading to death or serious physical injury, or involving sexual abuse, is subject to fines of up to $10,000.00, up to 25 years’ imprisonment, or both (Code of Maryland, Criminal Law, § 3-604). All other abuse of a vulnerable adult is a misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $5,000.00, up to five years’ imprisonment, or both (Code of Maryland, Criminal Law, § 3-605). All of these penalties are imposed in addition to the penalties for the underlying offense.
Maryland also defines hazing as a form of abuse. It is a misdemeanor to “recklessly or intentionally do an act or create a situation that subjects a student to the risk of serious bodily injury for the purpose of an initiation into a student organization of a school, college, or university.” The consent of the victim is not a defense. Hazing is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment, fines of up to $500.00, or both (Code of Maryland, Criminal Law, § 3-607).