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New law aims at strengthening elder abuse cases

Published 6:02am Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Local officials are applauding new laws passed during the recent legislative session that are aimed at protecting Alabama’s elderly residents from abuse and neglect.
Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said his office averages around 10 prosecutable cases a year involving elder abuse and he’s glad to see these laws strengthened to deter these type of crimes.
“Many people don’t consider this category of people when they think about the more publicized types of abuse, such as child or domestic abuse, but senior citizens often times can be as vulnerable as any child, especially when they aren’t able to take care of themselves any more,” Rushing said.
“Most of the cases we have prosecuted involve senior citizens who have been completely dependent on others for their day-to-day activities, and they’ve been taken advantage of physically, mentally and financially.”
The legislation passed this week under the name Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act.
The bill extends and strengthens legal protections from financial exploitation and physical or emotional abuse for all people aged 60 and older.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward and Rep. Paul DeMarco and supported by the Alabama Interagency Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, which was created by legislation in the 2012 Legislative Session.
Under previous law, the penalties for elder abuse were found in the Adult Protective Services Act and applied only to victims who could be categorized as a “protected person.”
The new bill does not change the current APS penalties but adds new sections to the Alabama criminal code. These new sections will provide law enforcement and prosecutors with additional avenues to prosecute elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
The new criminal code sections would apply to victims who are 60 years of age or older, regardless of mental competency.
Under this new law, elder abuse and neglect can be prosecuted as first-degree, second-degree, or third-degree abuse or neglect, depending on the type and severity of harm to the victim.
The penalties range from a class A misdemeanor for elder abuse and neglect in the third degree to a class A felony for intentional abuse or neglect which causes serious physical injury.
There is also a financial exploitation section to protect victims 60 and older who have been exploited by deception, intimidation, undue influence, force or threat of force.
The financial exploitation penalties range from a class A misdemeanor for exploitation of money or property totaling $500 or less to a class B felony for exploitation of money or property exceeding $2,500.
A class A felony carries a sentence of 10 years to life; a class B felony, of two to 20 years; a class C felony, of one to 10 years; and a class A misdemeanor, of up to one year.
“We are glad to see legislation passed that makes it easier for our office to prosecute the people who exploit and abuse our elderly residents,” Rushing said.
“These people need to understand the severity of taking advantage of someone who cannot physically take care of themselves anymore.”
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange also applauded the bill’s passage.
“I am pleased that the Legislature has strengthened our state laws to provide special protections for all who are 60 years or older,” Strange said.
“Previously, such protection applied only if the victim was defined as physically or mentally impaired. Sadly, experience tells us that criminals repeatedly target older people as victims, and the law passed today is a strong weapon to combat this.”
“Hopefully the passage of this legislation will reassure our senior citizens that there will be stricter laws in place to make sure they are taken care of,” Rushing said.

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