Elder abuse is prevalent in California. It is also a highly punishable offense under California laws. Elder abuse occurs when you physically, mentally, or emotionally neglect, abuse, or financially manipulate a person aged 65 or older. The crime is a felony or misdemeanor, based on the details of the case and your criminal history. A felony sentence attracts four years of prison time plus a hefty fine. A conviction will also impact your social and career lives. Thus, it is advisable to seek the help and guidance of a skilled criminal lawyer if you are accused of elder abuse in Los Angeles today. Our experienced Los Angeles Criminal Attorney team can make the legal processes smooth and offer quality advice to you. We could also plan a strong legal defense against the charges you face to cause the judge to dismiss or reduce those charges.
How California Laws Define Elder Abuse
In a society, elders are significant people. But due to their age, mental or physical disabilities, and other limitations, they cannot perform everyday activities for themselves and others or even protect their rights. Elders are also individuals admitted to healthcare facilities that deserve protection and consideration. Some people take advantage of individuals like those, resulting in elder abuse. If you know or should have possibly known that a person is an elder, and you violate their rights in any way, you can face elder abuse charges in California.
You can face these charges for many other reasons, as this is not an offense limited to just one act. For example, failing to care for a 90-year-old mother incapable of taking care of themselves. Or using deception to obtain money from an 80-year-old lady in your neighborhood or healthcare facility.
Elder abuse comprises acts and omissions. Some people fail to do that which they must do to care for elders in their lives. Others commit acts that violate the rights of elders in their midst. Either way, you can face severe elder abuse charges, resulting in a felony sentence and other grave consequences.
It helps to understand what elder abuse is all about and how an offense like that is prosecuted in California. Then, you will know what to expect and how to protect yourself if you face elder abuse charges. The help of an experienced criminal lawyer goes a long way in ensuring that you go through the legal process with minimal challenges. Your lawyer will also protect your rights and ensure that you put up a good fight against your charges.
Elements of the Offense
The law against elder abuse in California is under PC 368. It makes it an offense for any person to willfully and with criminal negligence subject an elder to unjustifiable physical or mental suffering. When you are arrested and charged with elder abuse in California, you must go through a criminal trial from which the judge decides whether or not you are guilty. The district attorney must prove all elements of the case beyond reasonable doubts for the judge to declare you guilty. These elements provide the legal definition of elder abuse. The elements of your offense, which the prosecutor must demonstrate to obtain a conviction, will be based on the charges you face under this law, whether felony or misdemeanor.
If you face misdemeanor charges for elder abuse, the district attorney must prove these elements:
- You willfully subjected the victim (an elder aged 65 years or more) to unjustifiable mental or physical suffering
- You were criminally negligent in doing so
- Your behavior could have risked the life and health of the alleged victim.
- You knew or could have possibly known that your victim was a senior aged 65 or more.
When you subject a person to unjustifiable suffering or pain, it refers to the type of pain and suffering that is beyond normal or unnecessary under the given circumstances. If a sick elder experiences pain while you are caring for them, that would not be considered elder abuse. But if you deliberately inflict pain on them, you will be guilty of elder abuse.
If you face felony charges for elder abuse, the prosecutor must demonstrate these elements to obtain a conviction:
- You willfully subjected the victim to unjustifiable mental or physical suffering
- You were criminally negligent in doing so
- Your actions would likely result in death or significant bodily injury
- You knew or could have possibly known that the victim was a senior aged 65 or older
An unjustifiable pain and suffering here has the same meaning as in misdemeanor abuse.
Let us discuss some of these elements more deeply to understand their legal implications.
Abuse does not refer to one kind of act or omission; it could take several forms, including:
- Physical abuse, whereby you cause the victim unjustifiable physical pain or suffering
- Emotional abuse — It could take different forms, like ridicule and isolation.
- Endangerment and neglect, which means putting the senior in a dangerous situation from which they could be physically, mentally, or emotionally hurt
- Financial exploitation —which you commit this for financial gain
If you face elder abuse charges for financially abusing an elder, the prosecutor will be required to prove these elements to obtain a conviction:
- You committed a specified type of financial crime, whether fraud, theft, or embezzlement
- The victim of this offense was an elder aged 65 or older
- You were taking care of this person at the time
- You knew or should have known that the victim was a senior
Example: Joan's grandmother, aged 76, lives a few blocks from where she lives with her family. She and her family take care of her grandmother. Sometimes Joan visits her granny to check out on her and borrow some cash to entertain her friends. When Joan finds her granny asleep, she takes some of the money her granny puts in a drawer next to her bed.
Here, Joan is guilty of financially abusing her grandmother. She takes money from her elderly grandmother without asking for it.
Financial abuse against elders does not need to involve financial institutions or bank accounts. Taking a small amount from an elder without their permission can satisfy the elements of this offense.
A Willful Act
Abuse is an act or omission that you perform willfully. It means that your actions or omissions were deliberate or purposeful, not by accident. For example, you deliberately deny food to an elderly parent under your care because you want to punish them.
You Were Criminally Negligent
Elder abuse also includes actions or omissions committed with criminal negligence. When you act with criminal negligence, your actions are unreasonable and reflect a total disregard for human safety or life.
In the example above, denying an elderly person food could compromise their health and eventually result in death.
Example: Susan is hired to care for a sick 80-year-old man. The man cannot feed or move and depends on others for everything he needs. Susan sometimes gets upset with the old man to the point of denying him food or water. The old man's health keeps worsening, and he could die due to hunger and dehydration.
Here, Susan's actions show that she acts with extreme criminal negligence that puts an old man's life at risk of death.
But, the district attorney can only prove criminal negligence in cases where the defendant owes the victim a legal duty of care.
Example: Sam left home right after his mother's burial. His stepfather was abusive, and although he (his stepfather) needed care, Sam could not continue living with him. Sam's stepfather hired a carer, who later neglected him. Sam was immediately arrested and charged with elder abuse when the stepfather died a few months later due to dehydration and hunger.
But since Sam was not responsible for caring for his stepfather, he was released, and the judge dropped all his charges.
Prosecution of Cases Involving Elder Abuse
Elder abuse is reported to and prosecuted in special units under the DA's offices that handle similar cases. A deputy prosecutor with special skills handles abuse cases against seniors. When a report is made to the police regarding an abuse case regarding an elder, and the police make an arrest, they forward the case to this particular unit, where the prosecutor decides:
- To file criminal charges against the alleged abuser
- Reject the matter based on the underlying details
- Order an investigation into the allegations to obtain solid evidence against the alleged perpetrator
Several special agencies prosecute cases like these. Here are some of the factors that determine the specific body that will handle a particular matter involving elder abuse:
- The nature of the abuse, whether physical, mental, emotional, or financial
- The area where the abuse happened
- If the abuse is a felony or misdemeanor, according to elder abuse laws
You will undergo a criminal trial if the prosecutor files charges against you (the alleged perpetrator). The trial allows you to defend yourself against the charges.
The judge could reduce or dismiss your charges if you successfully do so. Thus, you must engage the help of a skilled criminal lawyer for a fair hearing. An aggressive lawyer could change the outcome of your case.
Possible Legal Defenses Against Elder Abuse Charges
Elder abuse is a highly punishable offense. You could be sent to jail or prison if convicted of either a felony or misdemeanor. That will leave you with a bad criminal history that could affect your life in more ways than one. For example, you will experience difficulties finding suitable employment or a good home to rent. A criminal record could also affect how you obtain services like insurance and loans. Thus, you must put up a good fight against your charges with the assistance of a skilled criminal defense lawyer. Your lawyer can use the best defense strategies provided for this offense, including the following:
You Did Not Act Willfully
You are guilty of elder abuse if you willfully did or failed to do something that could inflict pain or suffering on an individual aged 65 or older. A willful act or omission is purposeful or deliberate. If your actions were not intended, you are not guilty, and the court could drop your charges. However, you must support your claim that you did not act willfully. You could have inflicted physical pain on an elder by accident or unknowingly. Or, you could have accidentally said something that caused them emotional pain or anguish. If that is correct, then the judge will free you with no further charges.
There was No Abuse
You could use this defense strategy if you believe you did not abuse the alleged victim as reported. Remember that elder abuse can take several forms, including physical, mental, emotional, endangerment, neglect, and financial abuse. If none of that occurred as long as you were taking care of the victim, you can counter the prosecutor's case by claiming that the seniors did not suffer any abuse. Remember that the district attorney must prove all elements of this offense beyond reasonable doubts for the judge to declare you guilty. If that does not work, the judge will drop your charges.
You Fase False Accusations
False accusations are common in cases involving abuse. They are mainly lodged by family members who feel that their senior is not receiving proper care as they should. Caregivers are sometimes falsely accused of elder abuse even while doing all they can to care for the elderly. Some neighbors or distant relatives falsely accuse children of elder abuse if they feel that an elderly parent is not receiving proper care. If it happened to you, your lawyer can gather sufficient evidence to prove in court that you gave your best to care for the senior and could not have possibly abused them.
You acted in Self-Defense
If you face charges under this law for engaging in a physical altercation with a senior, you can use this as a defense if you were merely protecting yourself or another. It could be that the victim attacked you or someone else, and you felt the need to defend yourself or that other person against imminent danger. Your lawyer can demonstrate in court that the senior was physically aggressive or engaging in violent behavior that could have left you or that other person injured. If that is the case, then the judge will drop your charges.
You Did Not Act With Criminal Negligence
Elder abuse laws require you to have acted with criminal negligence in causing an elder under your care unreasonable suffering or pain. Remember that criminal negligence is only necessary if the elder was under your custody or care. It means that you must have acted in a way that created a risk of death or injury to a senior you cared for. If your actions were only careless and not negligent, you would not be culpable of elder abuse. Also, if the senior was not under your custody or care, you will not be culpable under this law.
Penalties for a Conviction Under PC 368
You can face charges for felony or misdemeanor elder abuse in California, based on the circumstances of your case.
A misdemeanor conviction for abusing an elder attracts these penalties:
- One year in jail
- A maximum court fine of $6000
- Mandatory requirement to pay victim restitution
A felony sentence for elder abuse attracts these penalties:
- Four years in prison
- A maximum court fine of $10,000
- Pay victim restitution
But if the alleged victim suffers significant bodily injury from the abuse, you will likely receive an extra prison time of seven years.
Other Consequences of Conviction Under PC 368
A conviction for any crime will always come with grave consequences. If you did not previously have a criminal record, you would have one after the sentence. That would bring significant changes in your life. For example, your family and friends will not look at you the same again. Your social life will be significantly impacted and could affect how you relate with people in the future.
Finding a job after serving time in jail or prison is also a significant challenge. Employers do not easily trust employees with a criminal background. They will conduct a background check on you and could decide whether to hire you or not based on what they find. In most cases, people with a criminal background have trouble finding suitable jobs.
A conviction for abusing an elder could also impact your immigration situation. If you live and/or work in the U.S as an immigrant, you could face severe immigration consequences after a conviction under this statute. Abusing a senior is listed among crimes of moral turpitude. Thus, you could be deported or be inadmissible in the U.S after a conviction.
Also, a conviction under this law will impact your rights to a gun. While adults in California can buy or possess firearms, there are exceptions in specific situations, like after a felony sentence. Felons automatically lose their gun rights temporarily or permanently, based on the facts of their case. It means that after a felony sentence for abusing a senior, you will not be allowed to purchase or possess a firearm. If you already have one, you will have to give it up after the court's ruling.
Expungement of Your Criminal Record
A criminal conviction carries severe consequences that will impact your life in many ways. But you can change all that with the expungement of your criminal record. Expungement is a legal process that eliminates your criminal record and all negative consequences and implications of a criminal conviction. An expunged criminal record will not be publicly available. Hence, it will not affect certain aspects of your life, like your career.
But, you must complete your sentence to petition a judge to expunge your conviction under PC 368. You must also not be serving another prison or jail time or be on probation at the time of your application.
However, under this law, you are only eligible for expungement if you received a misdemeanor conviction. A felony sentence cannot be removed if you were sentenced to prison time.
Victims Of Elder Abuse Can Sue Their Abusers
Elder abuse qualifies as a criminal and civil case. Victims of elder abuse can file charges in a criminal court against their abusers to ensure their abusers receive the punishment they deserve. They could also file a lawsuit against their abusers for compensation for damages incurred in the abuse.
Civil lawsuits for elder abuse victims are allowed under WIC 15600. This statute allows the following persons to sue for damages if they are abused:
- Individuals aged sixty-five years or older
- Dependent adults aged between eighteen and sixty-four
Dependent adults are people with mental or physical disabilities that restrict their ability to perform everyday activities. These people depend on abled individuals to help them with their daily needs. Sadly, some suffer abuse at the hands of their carers.
For these parties to file a civil lawsuit against their abusers, they must have been under the custody or care of the alleged defendant. Most civil lawsuits regarding elder abuse are filed against professional carers and healthcare personnel. If the victims successfully file a suit against their abuser, they could recover the following damages:
- Compensatory damages for economic and non-economic damages
- Punitive damages awarded by the civil court as punishment for the defendant's behavior
Find an Experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
If you or your loved one faces elder abuse charges in Los Angeles today, it is advisable to hire a criminal defense attorney early in the legal process. It would be best if you had proper guidance, support, and advice to go through all legal procedures and obtain a favorable outcome. Our Los Angeles Criminal Attorney team is always ready to walk the difficult journey with you. We have extensive experience in handling cases like these. Thus, we could develop a strong defense against your charges that will compel the judge to reduce or drop your charges. Contact us at 424-333-0943 to discuss our services.