Adults of 65 years or older are highly protected by California law. They may not take care of themselves fully. Therefore, they depend on their family or other people to help them meet their day-to-day needs. While helping a senior, you might deliberately or accidentally violate their needs, bringing forth elder abuse charges. That is considered a severe offense in California, punishable by a lengthy time in prison and a hefty penalty.
If you face elder abuse charges in Riverside, CA, it could help to partner with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The goal is to fight your charges and avoid a conviction and its consequences. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will study the details of your case to determine loopholes that could enable us to compel the court to reduce or dismiss your charges.
Legal Definition of Elder Abuse
The law against elder abuse in California is under California PC 368. It makes it unlawful for any person to physically or emotionally abuse, neglect, or financially exploit a person who is 65 years or older. Elder abuse can take many forms. That is why it might help to engage the services of an experienced criminal attorney if you face criminal charges for abusing a senior today. Your attorney will study the details of your case to help you understand the nature and magnitude of your charges and the likely punishment. He/she will then work with you to develop a solid defense against your charges.
The elderly face a lot of challenges in their lives. Since they do not have much strength like the younger adults, they might find it challenging to perform their day-to-day tasks. It becomes even more difficult if they are ill and are entirely dependent on their family or employees. For instance, they might need help with feeding every so often if they cannot care for themselves. Those who use a wheelchair will need constant care and monitoring to ensure that they are safe and their needs are fully met.
Much of these responsibilities fall on the families and sometimes professional caregivers. These, too, are people with their own needs and obligations. Therefore, it might be a challenge to take care of a dependent person fully. However, the law demands that, even as you take care of an elder of 65 years or above, you must be careful not to abuse them (physically or emotionally), neglect, or exploit them financially.
Elder abuse can take many forms. Thus, you could face charges for elder abuse for an action or omission that you thought was innocent but one that caused the victim to suffer, physically or mentally. For instance, you might have spent money your elderly relative entrusted to you for personal needs and without their consent, hoping that you will return the money before they realize it. Innocent as your actions might seem, they might be interpreted as financial exploitation and could cause you serious criminal charges.
Cases of elder abuse are not always as straightforward as you would expect. Sometimes you might be accused of neglect or exploitation and have a tough time understanding how the charges came about. That is why it is crucial to understand the elements of this offense, which the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty as charged. The crime details will depend on whether the prosecutor wants to open charges for a misdemeanor or felony abuse against you.
Elder Abuse as a Misdemeanor
A misdemeanor charge for elder abuse would be the most lenient form of this offense. The elements of this offense are:
- That you willingly and/or with criminal negligence put the victim through unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain
- That your actions could have compromised the health or life of the victim
- That you understood or should’ve reasonably known that the alleged victim was an elder adult of 65 years or older
An unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain means the kind of suffering or pain that isn’t necessary or is in excess under the conditions.
Elder Abuse as a Felony
The elements for elder abuse as a felony are:
- That you willfully and/or with criminal negligence put the victim through unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain
- That your actions were likely to result in significant bodily harm or death of the victim
- That you did so knowing or should have reasonably known that the alleged victim was an elder of 65 years or older
Unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain will mean the same as in a misdemeanor abuse charge.
To understand these elements even better, let us look at some of the keywords in greater detail:
As previously mentioned, elder abuse is a broad term, which could mean many things, all of which violate the rights of elders. For the purposes of this law, elder abuse will mean:
- The physical abuse meted against an adult of 65 years or older — It occurs when you inflict unjustifiable injury or pain on the victim
- Emotional abuse — Could take many forms, including ridicule or isolation
- Neglect — Paying little or no attention to the physical or emotional needs and welfare of an elder under your care
- Endangerment — Leaving or putting the elder in a condition where his/her life, health, and general well being could be in danger
- Financial exploitation — Also referred to as financial abuse or senior fraud. It happens when you take advantage of an elder under your care, causing them to incur a financial loss
In case of financial abuse, the law requires the prosecutor to demonstrate the following for the court to find you guilty of your charges:
- That you committed a finance-related offense— it could be theft, embezzlement, or fraud
- That the stolen property belonged to an adult of 65 years or older
- That you committed the said crime when you were a caretaker, for the person, and you knew very well that the person was an elderly
Example: An employee in a retirement facility that cares for elders of 65 years and above might face severe charges for financial abuse of elders if he/she was found guilty of taking small amounts of money from the patient’s drawers. Even the slightest violation would count as long as it involved exploiting an elder financially.
A Willful Act
Elder abuse involves any act described above when it happens willfully. A willful act is deliberate or done on purpose.
With Criminal Negligence
Elder abuse could occur willfully or with criminal negligence. An act becomes criminal negligence if it is unreasonable or reflects a disregard for human life.
Example: Cate has been taking care of her 82-year old father for three years now. Her father has Alzheimer’s disease. In the beginning, Cate thought that her father’s health would improve in a few weeks. It has been three years of stress for her, especially because she cannot afford to pay a professional caregiver. Out of stress, Cate sometimes denies her father food and water, hoping that he will die and relieve her of the stress.
Cate’s actions are deliberate and satisfy the requirements for criminal negligence. She could face a felony conviction for elder abuse.
However, prosecutors face a significant challenge when trying to demonstrate criminal negligence. But the prosecutor might easily win the case against you if he/she can prove that you had a statutory duty of care for the alleged victim. For instance, in the example above, Cate is her father’s primary caregiver. Thus, she owes her father a duty of care. The prosecutor could use the breach of that duty to prove criminal negligence and cause Cate to face a severe felony conviction for elder abuse.
How Elder Abuse Cases are Prosecuted in California
Elder abuse cases are a little complicated. Thus, they involve a series of investigations to ensure that the court has sufficient evidence to prosecute offenders. Therefore, most prosecuting agencies in California, like the DA’s offices, have specific units dealing with these cases. It means that a team of officers with special training conduct in-depth investigations into the reports the county’s DA’s office receives. A well-trained prosecutor is also assigned to the case.
The police have a minimal role to play in cases like these. Once they receive a report regarding elder abuse, they refer the case to these specialized units. The DA will then decide to file charges, dismiss the matter, or refer the case to a detective for further investigation and submission of a report to the DA’s office.
The nature of the elder abuse case will determine the state agency that will prosecute it. Some of the factors that could resolve this include:
- The place where the offense occurred
- Whether the crime was a felony or misdemeanor
- The exact details of the alleged offense
Legal Defense Strategies to Elder Abuse Charges in California
As previously mentioned, elder abuse charges are pretty severe in California. You could go to prison for several years and/or pay a hefty penalty if convicted. California elder abuse conviction is also life-changing—it could affect different aspects of your life, including your social and career life. That is why you must fight your charges. The help of an experienced criminal defense attorney goes a long way in ensuring that you stand a fair trial. Fortunately for you, several defense strategies are available to help you obtain a fair outcome of your case. Some of the common defense strategies that your attorney can use in your case are:
You Didn’t Act Willfully
The first element of this offense is that you willfully acted the way you did. A willful act is deliberate or done on purpose. Thus, if you didn’t act willfully, you may not be guilty as charged. An accidental action can quickly be misinterpreted as abuse. For instance, you might have accidentally injured a patient in a retirement facility where you work as you were trying to help the patient to the bathroom. In that case, the injury was not a deliberate act in your case but an accident.
However, your attorney must be convincing for the jury to accept your defense and dismiss your charges. The judge might consider several factors, for instance, your past conduct and your mood at the time of the offense. Was it the first time a patient was incurring an injury under your care? Are you devoted to your work? Are you constantly picking fights with patients and colleagues?
Based on the findings of the judge, the court might dismiss or reduce your charges.
No Abuse Occurred
Elder abuse cases are quite sensitive, as they involve a violation of the rights of the elderly. Thus, it is not unusual to find a person facing accusations of abusing an elder while no abuse occurred in the first place. Dependent elders require a lot of attention that even the most willing person might not give 100%.
Thus, the victim might have accused you of abuse for something minor you did or failed to do, while in the real sense, you were taking good care of them. Someone else might have lodged a false complaint to the police, accusing you of negligence or endangerment of an older adult under your care.
In cases like these, the DA will send a detective to investigate the matter to determine the exact details of the case. Your attorney will also gather evidence to support your innocence in court. If it is established that there was no abuse in the first place, the court will acquit you of your charges.
Self-Defense or Defense for Others
If you face elder abuse charges for acting violently against an elder of 65 years or older, you could cite this defense to have the court dismiss or reduce your charges.
You could tell the court that the alleged victim acted violently towards you or another person and that your reaction was merely to protect yourself or the other person.
Self-defense is an acceptable criminal defense mechanism in California, especially in violence-related cases. However, you have to convince the court of the following:
- That you had a reasonable belief that you or the other person was in imminent danger of incurring a significant physical injury in the hands of the alleged victim
- You believed that using immediate force was necessary to avert that danger
- You did not use more force than necessary to defend yourself or the other person
An experienced criminal defense attorney will know how to argue your case to compel the court to dismiss your charges.
California PC 368 requires you to have known that the alleged victim was an elder of 65 years or older to face charges for elder abuse. If you did not possess that knowledge, then you will not be guilty under this law. You cannot tell the age of a person by just looking at their face. A person might appear old but still not be over 65 years of age. Some people don’t age so quickly and might still appear younger, while in the real sense, they are seniors.
That is why the judge will not assume that you were aware or should’ve known that the alleged victim was a senior. For instance, if it was your first time interacting with the alleged victim, you may not have known their actual age.
However, you could still face criminal charges if your actions satisfy the elements of another offense under California law.
Penalties for Conviction Under California PC 368
As mentioned earlier, elder abuse can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the details of the offense.
As a misdemeanor, a conviction for elder abuse could carry the following penalties:
- A maximum of one year in jail
- A fine of not exceeding $1,000
- Payment of restitution to the victim
On the other hand, a felony elder abuse conviction could carry the following penalties:
- Imprisonment for a maximum of four years
- A fine of not exceeding $10,000
- Payment of restitution to the victim or the victim’s family
You could receive an additional seven years of prison time for your felony sentence if the victim incurs a significant bodily injury.
A conviction for elder abuse in California could also affect your immigration status if you are a non-citizen. Your actions could qualify as a crime of moral turpitude, based on the details of your case. Crimes of moral turpitude refer to those offenses that involve dishonesty or vile conduct that could shock a reasonable person. Society expects that people would be kind and helpful towards the needy and other dependent persons. Any action contrary to that would be deemed shocking and could cause you to face deportation or be marked as inadmissible to the United States.
Again, a conviction under California PC 368 might affect your gun rights. California gun laws are pretty strict, only allowing a particular set of people to purchase or own a firearm. Convicted felons are not permitted by law to buy or own a gun. Thus, if you are convicted for a felony elder abuse, you will automatically lose your gun rights. If you previously held a firearm, you will be required to surrender it immediately after the conviction.
California Elder Abuse and Related Charges
California laws have three offenses that are closely associated with elder abuse. They are:
California PC 242 — Battery
The law defines the offense of battery as a deliberate and unlawful act of violence or force against another person. You could face battery charges even if the victim did not incur physical injury or pain. If committed against a senior, a simple battery charge becomes elder abuse.
If you convince the court to reduce your elder abuse charges through a solid defense, you could face battery charges instead. A simple battery charge is mainly a misdemeanor, attracting a jail sentence of six months and a maximum fine of $2000.
But if your actions caused the victim to incur a severe bodily injury, you could face charges for aggravated battery, which is a felony offense punishable by up to four years in prison.
California PC 261 — Rape
Rape is a serious violent offense in California. It occurs if a person has nonconsensual sex with another person through force, threats, or fraud. The punishment for rape is more severe than elder abuse. Rape is a felony offense, punishable by a maximum of eight years in prison. Additionally, the offender is required to register as a sex offender every year for a predetermined period.
Just like elder abuse, rape cases are challenging to prove by prosecutors. Thus, some people take advantage of this to falsely accuse innocent people of criminal acts. You need a strong defense team to help you obtain a fair case outcome if you face charges for rape or elder abuse in California.
California PC 422 — Issuance of Criminal Threats
You could face charges for issuing a criminal threat if you threaten to physically injure or kill another person. The nature of the threat must be credible enough for the victim to be in reasonable fear for their safety or the safety of their loved one. A credible threat must also be specific and unambiguous. It can be communicated verbally, in written form, or sent via electronic means. A conviction under this law attracts a prison sentence of up to four years.
Find a Reliable Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you face criminal charges for elder abuse in Riverside, CA, you might receive severe criminal penalties and other life-changing consequences if convicted. Elder abuse is a severe offense in California whose conviction you must avoid by all means. Thus, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to fight your charges and have your charges reduced or dropped. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, our competent attorneys will take you through the legal process, help you plan a solid defense, and fight alongside you until you receive a fair outcome of your case. Call us at 951-946-6366 for more information and legal advice.