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Legislation aims to protect elderly

Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said elder abuse isn’t something that comes up on a daily basis here locally, but it comes up more than people probably expect.
“In the past five years, we’ve averaged around 10 prosecutable cases a year involving elder abuse,” Rushing said.
“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.
“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 issue of elder abuse is one that even state legislators are considering more seriously.
On Monday, Sen. Cam Ward, Rep. Paul DeMarco, Commissioner Neal Morrison and several members of the Alabama Interagency Council for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, which was created by legislation in the 2012 Legislative Session, were in Birmingham to announce legislation that will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session that will create new articles in the Criminal Code to combat elder abuse.
“This legislation is a collaborative effort between 30 agencies and organizations who participate in the Council and shows how dedicated this administration is to protecting Alabama’s seniors,” said Neal Morrison, Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services which is the Lead Agency designated for the Council.
The proposed legislation creates additional criminal penalties for elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.
Currently, the penalties are found in the Adult Protective Services Act and apply only to victims who could be categorized as a “protected person.”
The proposed legislation 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.
The legislation is proposing that elder abuse and neglect 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.  A class A felony carries a sentence of 10 years to life in Alabama.
“We are glad to see any attempts to pass legislation 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.”
Gov. Robert Bentley also came out in support of the proposed legislation.
“It is unfortunate that some people have harmed or taken advantage of the elderly. There are criminals out there who see them as easy targets, but we want to put a stop to elder abuse,” Bentley said in a statement.
“Once we approve this legislation, the penalties will be a lot tougher.  And it is my hope that by strengthening our laws, perhaps would-be criminals will think twice and avoid committing a crime altogether.”
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.
“It seems like we hear about a new or different scam every time we turn around,” Rushing said.
“And the sad part is, a lot of times it’s the victim’s own family that exploit them for financial gain by depleting their bank accounts or even taking their medication to use themselves or to sell.
“These kinds of things just shouldn’t be happening.”
Additionally, agents under a power of attorney, guardians and conservators who exploit the person they are responsible for may be subject to the criminal penalties as well.
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 B felony carries a sentence of two to 20 years in Alabama.
“If this legislation is successfully introduced and passed, hopefully it will reassure our senior citizens that there will be stricter laws in place to make sure they are taken care of,” Rushing said.