How are inter-state relationships legality determined in the US?

Say Joe is 25 and lives in Maryland and Jane is 17 and lives in Virginia. In Maryland the age of consent is 16 and in Virginia the age of consent is 18. Would this make physical relations legal in Maryland but not Virginia, or illegal in both? What about digital communications between the two?

1 Answer 1


Age of consent to sex or marriage is governed by the law of the place where sexual contact or marriage, respectively, takes place.

In the event that sexual conduct literally takes place on a boundary line (e.g. directly above the Four Corners Monument in Colorado-New Mexico-Utah-Arizona), each state has authority to apply its laws using its definitions to that conduct, so one needs to be legal in every state involved to be free of potential criminal liability.

I know of no state laws establishing an age of consent to merely communicate, but the general rule of choice of law in criminal cases is that, for example, if someone in Utah shoots someone in Colorado over the state line, is that both the laws of the source of the crime and the laws of the place where the injury from the crime took place, can be applied by each respective state.

  • 2
    What about federal law?
    – phoog
    Oct 20, 2017 at 10:52
  • I have done some more research since posting this and it appears that across state lines federal law would come into effect, which puts the age at 18.
    – Redja
    Oct 20, 2017 at 14:46
  • Federal law would also apply in some cases. But, lots of potentially applicable issue (e.g. marriage) would not count as interstate, and sexual conduct would not always count as interstate which frequently turns on the purpose for crossing the state law and who does so. In lots of circumstances, only a single state's law would apply and there would be no relevant federal law.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 21, 2017 at 2:12

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