Older members of society need protection. That is why engaging in the abuse of an elder will result in criminal charges. Penal Code 368 defines elder abuse as any action or inaction by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or threatens to cause injury to an older person who is 65 years of age or older. Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical abuse, financial abuse, neglect, abandonment, isolation, abduction, or any other treatment that results in bodily harm, mental suffering, or monetary loss.

Convictions for elder abuse result in significant penalties. You thus need the assistance of an attorney to fight the charges. The California Criminal Lawyer Group is ready to offer you legal representation and guidance should you or a loved one face elder abuse charges in Anaheim.

Elder Abuse Under California Law

Penal Code 368 makes it a punishable offense for anyone to cause emotional or physical distress to someone 65 or older through commissions or omissions.

California law recognizes two types of elder abuse:

  • Criminal elder abuse and
  • Civil elder abuse.

Criminal elder abuse occurs when someone intentionally causes or permits an elder to suffer or inflicts unjustifiable bodily harm or mental suffering on an elder. Prosecutors can prosecute criminal elder abuse as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of the offense.

On the other hand, civil elder abuse is a cause of action that allows an older person or their representative to sue the abuser for damages.

Both criminal and civil elder abuse focus on three forms of abuse the elderly fall victim to. That is:

  • Physical abuse.
  • Mental abuse.
  • Neglect.
  • Financial fraud and other forms of mistreatment.

Note: Elder abuse charges include acts directed at the victim and failure to take appropriate steps to provide the care the older individual needs. Therefore, if a caregiver knowingly allows abuse, he/she will face prosecution under PC 368.

What Prosecutors Must Prove in an Elder Abuse Case

Prosecutors bear the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury will not find you criminally liable unless the state meets this burden. Prosecutors should establish the following elements to be present in your case to meet the burden:

Misdemeanor Elder Abuse

  • You knew or should have reasonably known that the victim was a person who was 65 years of age or older.
  • You acted with criminal negligence, recklessly, or intentionally and caused or allowed the victim to suffer unjustifiable pain. The focus in misdemeanor cases is that your actions endanger the victim’s health or life.
  • You had a duty to care for or assist the victim — Caregivers, healthcare workers, and family members owe a duty of care to older adults under their care.
  • Your conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm suffered by the victim.
  • You knew or reasonably should have known that their conduct would likely harm the victim.

Felony Elder Abuse

  • You knew or should have reasonably known that the victim was a person who was 65 years of age or older.
  • You acted with criminal negligence, recklessly, or intentionally and caused or allowed the victim to suffer unjustifiable pain. The focus in felony cases is that your actions had the potential to cause the victim to suffer significant bodily injury or death.
  • You had a duty to care for or assist the victim — Caregivers, healthcare workers, and family members owe a duty of care to older adults under their supervision.
  • Your conduct was a substantial factor in causing the harm suffered by the victim.
  • You knew or reasonably should have known that their conduct would likely harm the victim.

Let us look at the key elements above to understand the offense better.

  1. Abuse

Elder abuse can take many forms and may involve a range of abusive behaviors. Here are some examples of elder abuse:

  • Physical abuse — This involves any intentional or reckless act that causes bodily harm to an older person. Therefore, hitting, slapping, pushing, or restraining the victim amounts to physical abuse.
  • Emotional abuse — Any verbal or nonverbal conduct that causes emotional distress to an older adult, for example, yelling, belittling, or isolating them from friends and family, will result in elder abuse charges.
  • Financial abuse involves the unauthorized or illegal use of an older adult's finances, property, or assets for the abuser's gain. Examples include stealing money or property, forging checks, or coercing the victim to sign over assets. Prosecutors must further show that you were entrusted with the care of the property or money.
  • Sexual abuse — Any non-consensual sexual contact with an older person or any sexual contact with an older adult who cannot give informed consent due to cognitive or physical impairment amounts to sexual abuse. Prosecutors could also charge you with a sex crime like rape or sexual assault, depending on the facts of the case.
  • Abandonment involves the desertion of an elderly person by their caregiver, for example, leaving them in a public place or nursing home without proper supervision or care.

These are just a few examples of abusive behaviors that can constitute elder abuse. Any behavior that causes harm or distress to an elderly person can be considered elder abuse, even if it does not fit neatly into one of these categories.

  1. You Acted Deliberetely and Negligently

Negligence in an elderly abuse case refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care or caution in caring for an older adult. This failure can include failing to provide adequate food, water, or medical care, failing to protect the individual from harm, or failing to adequately supervise an elderly individual who is unable to care for themselves.

Prosecutors must show that you had a duty to care for or assist the victim. Further, it must be evident that you breached this duty by failing to provide adequate care or supervision and that the breach of duty caused harm or injury to the victim.

For example, if a nursing home employee fails to provide an elderly resident with adequate hydration, causing the resident to suffer dehydration-related health problems, the employee is criminally liable.

Negligence can also be a factor in financial abuse or emotional abuse cases. For example, a family member who neglects to pay his/her father’s bills or steals money from their bank account. Their actions amount to financial negligence.

It is worth noting that the standard in elder abuse cases is criminal negligence instead of ordinary negligence. Criminal and ordinary negligence differ based on the level of guilt and the corresponding penalties.

Ordinary negligence involves a failure to exercise reasonable care or caution, which results in harm or injury to another person. For example, ordinary negligence occurs when a caregiver fails to provide adequate care or supervision, thus resulting in damage or injury to the victim.

On the other hand, criminal negligence involves a higher degree of culpability. It is typically associated with more severe conduct. In an elder abuse case, criminal negligence could apply when a caregiver engages in willful or wanton conduct that poses a serious risk to an elderly individual’s health or safety. For example, the caregiver could leave the victim unattended for an extended period or incorrectly administer medication.

Prosecutors must prove that your conduct rose to the level of criminal negligence to secure an elder abuse conviction.

Process of Reporting Elder Abuse

Victims of senior abuse in Anaheim or other persons first report the abuse to local law enforcement or Orange County Adult Protective Services. The authorities then investigate the matter and refer the case to the Orange County District Attorney's Office for prosecution if warranted.

The Family Protection Unit of the District Attorney’s Office will then take up the matter for prosecution. They work closely with law enforcement, Adult Protective Services, and other agencies to investigate and prosecute elder abuse cases. Several factors will determine the agency-responsibilities when handling elder abuse cases. These factors may include the following:

  • The location where the alleged abuse occurred.
  • Whether the offense is categorized as a misdemeanor or a felony, and
  • The specific type of abuse that is being alleged.

Defenses You Can Assert in an Elder Abuse Case

There are several defenses available to you that you can use to challenge the elder abuse charges against you. Each defense strategy targets a specific element of the crime. Thus, the ideal defense depends on which element the prosecution fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and the facts of the case.

  1. You Were Falsely Accused

It is possible that you fell victim to false accusations of elder abuse. If so, asserting that you were wrongly accused is an ideal defense. In this defense, you can submit that the victim is mistaken or intentionally making up the allegations.

Proving that you were falsely accused in an elder abuse case can be challenging. It typically involves a he-said-she-said situation. However, there are several steps that you and your attorney can take to attempt to demonstrate that the accusations are untrue:

  • Present evidence — If you have any evidence that contradicts the accusations, for example, text messages, emails, or witness statements, provide them to your attorney. They will use this evidence to cast doubt on your accuser's credibility.
  • Gather character witnesses — If you have people who know you and can speak to your character and behavior, they can provide testimony that contradicts the accusations.
  • Investigate the accuser — If the accusations seem suspicious or are inconsistent with the accuser's past behavior, your attorney could investigate the accuser's background and history to uncover any possible motives for making false accusations.
  • Examine physical evidence — In some cases, physical evidence, for example, medical reports or photographs, supports your version of events and contradicts the accusations.

Note: The burden of proof remains with the prosecution to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, not with you to demonstrate your innocence. Therefore, even if you cannot prove the accusations as false, the prosecution must still prove their case against you. This defense simply casts doubt on the prosecution’s case.

  1. You Acted in Self-defense

Self-defense can be raised as a defense in elder abuse cases if you can show that you took the said actions to protect yourself from harm. However, self-defense can be challenging in elder abuse cases since the jury will perceive you as having a duty of care towards the victim. Thus, the force you used could be deemed excessive.

Under this defense strategy, you should show that you believed you were in imminent danger of harm. Further, it must be clear to the jury that the force you used was reasonable and necessary to protect yourself and that you did not provoke the altercation. Additionally, you must have had a reasonable belief that the elderly person would harm you.

You can present the following evidence in support of your claim:

  • Witness statements — If other people were present during the altercation, they could testify to the alleged victim’s actions that made you believe you were in danger.
  • Prior incidents —If there were previous incidents of violence or threats of violence from the elderly person, this can be used to show that you had a reasonable belief that they posed a threat to you.
  • Physical evidence — If there is physical evidence, like injuries or property damage, this can support your claim that you were in danger.
  • Your testimony — You can testify about your thoughts and feelings during the altercation. This will show that you genuinely believed you were in imminent danger of harm.

Note: The reasonableness of your belief will be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in your situation, not based on your subjective perception of the case.

It is worth pointing out that using force against an elderly person is generally viewed more harshly than the use of force against someone who is not elderly or vulnerable. Therefore, it could be more difficult for you to establish self-defense in an elder abuse case. However, an experienced attorney will help you navigate this defense and use it successfully.

  1. Insufficient Evidence

You can argue that the state failed to present enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the alleged crime. Your attorney will argue that there is insufficient evidence proving you committed the abuse. Your attorney would typically present this argument to the court, and the judge would evaluate whether the prosecution's evidence is strong enough to support a guilty verdict.

If the judge agrees that the evidence is insufficient, he/she could dismiss the case. However, if the judge determines that the evidence is sufficient, the case will continue, and you must explore other possible defenses.

This is a viable defense in cases where the evidence is weak or circumstantial.

The District Attorney’s Actions If the VIctim Suffers From Dementia

If the victim is suffering from dementia or any other mental illness, which makes it impossible to support the DA's accusations or makes them not credible, then the prosecution will have to present tangible proof of abuse. They must present evidence of physical injuries, neglect, malnourishment, dehydration, or apparent wounds and sores that cannot be overlooked.

To refute any circumstantial evidence presented by the prosecution, the defendant could provide evidence that they had provided the victim with adequate care. This assertion should be supported by records of medical visits, recreational activities, walks, receipts of meals and medications, and other forms of evidence that show that the defendant took care of the victim.

Penalties If Convicted of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a wobbler offense. You can face misdemeanor or felony charges.

If you were charged with a misdemeanor violation, a conviction could result in the following penalties:

  • A jail sentence of up to one year.
  • A fine of up to $6,000.
  • Restitution to the victim.

On the other hand, felony elder abuse is punishable by the following penalties:

  • Imprisonment of 2, 3, or 4 years.
  • A fine of up to $10,000 and/or
  • Victim restitution.

Additionally, a conviction for elder abuse could result in mandatory counseling. Penal Code 368(k) gives the judge the authority to mandate counseling sessions for individuals convicted of elder abuse. This can significantly burden your time and necessitate rearranging your schedule to meet the court's mandatory requirements.

Sentence Enhancements

Penal Code 368(b)(2) prescribes sentence enhancements if any of the following aggravating factors are evident in your case.

  1. The Victim Sustains Great Physical Injury

If the victim was put in a situation where:

  • he/she could reasonably result in significant bodily harm and
  • he/she ended up with significant physical harm.

The court will impose an additional sentence of three years if the victim is under 70 or four years if the victim is over 70.

  1. The VIctim Dies As a Result of the Abuse

The court could extend your sentence if the victim succumbs to the abuse. You could receive the following:

  • An additional five years if the victim is below 70 years of age, or
  • A further seven years if the victim is over 70 years of age.
  1. A Felony Strike

Per Penal Code section 1192.7(c)(1)(8), you will receive a strike on your record if the victim sustains great bodily injury or dies during alleged abuse, other than an accomplice or any felony crime where the defendant personally uses a gun.

If you are convicted of a serious felony as defined by either of these sections and have prior serious or violent felony convictions, you will be sentenced to an extended term of imprisonment under California's Three Strikes Law. The Three Strikes Law mandates increased sentences for repeat offenders and can result in life imprisonment for individuals who have committed three serious or violent felonies.

Civil Action in an Elder Abuse Case

Can you be sued by the victim or his/her family, and is the suit related to the criminal case against you?

Yes, the victim can file a civil lawsuit against you for abuse. The civil proceedings are separate from the criminal case. Thus, both are independent of the outcomes of each.

The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, Welfare and Institutions Code 15600 protects elders and dependent adults from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The law broadly defines abuse to include physical abuse, neglect, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, and other forms of mistreatment.

The law also provides civil remedies and criminal penalties for those violating its provisions. The victim will be awarded compensatory and punitive damages if found guilty of wrongdoing.

Immigration Consequences of an Elder Abuse Conviction

A conviction for elder abuse under PC 368 could be considered a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). Whether or not a CIMT conviction will result in deportation or inadmissibility will depend on various factors, including the specific type of abuse, the severity of the offense, and the person's immigration status.

For example, if an individual is in the United States on a temporary visa, like a work or student visa, a conviction on elder abuse charges could lead to deportation proceedings. Ultimately, the proceedings could end in the revocation of their visa.

If the individual is a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), a conviction could lead to deportation and inadmissibility to the country.

Impact of an Elder Abuse Conviction on Gun Rights

Penal Code 29800 makes it illegal for anyone convicted of a felony to possess a firearm. Any firearm handling violating PC 29800 will result in further penalties, including imprisonment and fines.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

It is crucial to seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney specializing in elder abuse cases if you are facing such charges in Anaheim. An experienced attorney can help you comprehend the charges against you, explore potential defenses, and work towards achieving the best possible outcome for your case.

Delaying in seeking legal representation can be detrimental to your case. The sooner you contact an attorney, the better your chances are to build a robust defense and safeguard your rights. The California Criminal Lawyer Group has a proven track record of successfully handling elder abuse cases. We understand why you need to challenge the elder abuse charges. Reach out to our team at 714-766-0965 for assistance.