When we think of abuse, most people think of the crimes of domestic violence or child abuse. However, the abuse of senior citizens has become an increasing concern especially as the population of the elderly continues to grow. In Massachusetts, as across the country, elder abuse is happening at an alarming rate.
Massachusetts Elder Abuse Laws
Elder abuse involves any knowing or intentional act by a caregiver, family member, or other person, which causes harm to a person over the age of 60. It also includes neglect that causes harm. Abuse does not only include physical abuse, such as inflicting or threatening to inflict pain on a person, or depriving them of a basic need.
Abuse can also include emotional abuse, or sexual abuse. Passive activity, such as neglecting to take care of someone by failing to provide food, adequate shelter, water, health care, medication or protection is also considered abuse. Financial exploitation, of funds, property or assets is another form of elder abuse.
Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Elder Abuse
Just as when it comes to child abuse, for certain professions there is a legal requirement to report any suspected abuse or neglect of the elderly to authorities. Mandatory reporters include physicians, physician assistants, dentists, nurses, family counselors, police, firefighters, social workers, EMTs, psychologists, or managers of an assisted living residence.
A mandatory reporter who has reasonable cause to believe an elderly person is suffering from, or has died as a result of abuse must make a report of such information to the Department of Elder Affairs or designated agency, followed by a written report detailing the suspect abuse or neglect within 48 hours.
Failing to report suspected abuse or neglect is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
Of course, suspected elder abuse can be reported by anyone. Often times, it is family members who report the abuse. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) has 22 designated protective services agencies to respond to these reports.
Elder Abuse Penalties
Penalties for elder abuse or neglect will depend on the underlying action. There are special provisions under many Massachusetts laws with enhanced penalties for violations against a victim 60-years-old or older.
For example, assault and battery upon a person over 60 by a dangerous weapon shall be punished by imprisonment for up to 10 years. A subsequent offense also carries a mandatory minimum two year sentence.
Theft and Assault
Assault with the intent to rob or murder a person over 60-years-old shall be punished by with up to 20 years in prison. If a firearm is used, the penalty carries a mandatory minimum ten year sentence. Subsequent offenses may result in additional penalties, including a mandatory minimum two-year sentence. While it appears this may only apply to street robbery, a caretaker or other person who wants to rob an elderly person may face this charge.
Whoever by force and violence, or by assault and putting in fear robs, steals or takes from a person over 60-years-old, money or other property the subject of larceny may face life in prison. Subsequent offenses include a mandatory minimum two-year sentence. In this case, a person putting an elderly person in fear in order to take some property from them may face life in prison.
Financial exploitation may be charged as larceny on a victim 65-years-old or older. Whoever commits larceny by stealing from a person 65 or older shall be punished by imprisonment for up to 5 years. A subsequent offense includes a mandatory minimum two-year sentence.
Defenses to Elder Abuse Charges
Unfortunately, innocent people can be accused of elder abuse. In some cases, the elderly victim may not even be able to come to the defense of the wrongfully accused because of physical limitations. The accuser can simply be mistaken as to who is causing harm, or other signs of injury may have nothing to do with an abuser. In other cases, an accuser may have a darker motive for accusing the wrong person, such as in order to gain financially from an elderly parent, and try and exploit them after the innocent caregiver has been removed.
Each case of alleged elder abuse is different, and Boston lawyers experienced in defending people charged with elder abuse, neglect or financial exploitation will be able identify all available defenses. This will include undertaking an in-depth investigation into the individual case, including gathering all available records and evidence and interviewing all relevant parties.