The words “elder abuse” conjure up images of a frail, helpless senior citizen being beaten by an evil caregiver. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complicated than that. Elder abuse can be physical, sexual, psychological, and even financial. It's not relegated just to nursing homes, either; it often happens in the victim's own home, sometimes even at the hands of a relative or friend rather than a paid caregiver.
The State of Pennsylvania takes elder abuse very seriously--to the point that the state has established a special Department of Aging and makes it mandatory for employees and administrators of nursing care facilities to report suspected incidents of elder abuse to their local agency on aging and/or local law enforcement. If you are accused of elder abuse, depending on the severity of the alleged offense, you could potentially face felony charges and up to 20 years in prison.
Elder Abuse Defense Attorney in Pennsylvania
Admittedly, sometimes accusers get it wrong, and honest mistakes can often be construed as deliberate abuse. If you're charged with one or more crimes under Pennsylvania's elder abuse laws, it's critical to have a good Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney in your corner to make sure your rights are protected and to help you mount a solid defense. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience helping Pennsylvania defendants fight charges of elder abuse and related crimes. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
What Constitutes Elder Abuse?
Pennsylvania's laws regarding elder abuse address both the acts of abuse and the mandate to report acts of alleged abuse. The crime of “Neglect of Care-Dependent Persons” is covered in 18 Pa. C.S.A. Section 2713. Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania doesn't categorize elder abuse by the age of the victim but instead makes it a crime to abuse any adult identified as “care-dependent.” While seniors constitute the largest number of adult dependents (hence the term “elder abuse”), the law also protects any adult with physical or mental disabilities who relies on others for help in meeting their daily needs.
In Pennsylvania, the term “elder abuse” encompasses a wide range of behaviors, including:
- Causing physical harm/injury
- Sexual abuse/assault/harassment
- Illegal use of chemical and physical restraints (in other words, using drugs or physical restraints against the victim without a valid medical reason to do so)
- Unreasonable confinement--isolating or hindering the victim's movements without a valid medical reason
- Depriving the victim of adequate care, food, water, or medicine (i.e., neglect)
- Exercising influence or coercion (causing the victim to comply with something inappropriate or unreasonable, whether through trickery or threats)
- Intimidation (i.e., psychological abuse)
- Financial abuse (e.g., stealing property or exercising financial exploitation)
It's important to note that Pennsylvania law also imposes a duty on employees, administrators, healthcare professionals, etc., who know or reasonably suspect that elder abuse is taking place to report it to the authorities. Failure to do so can result in criminal charges as well.
Who Is Considered a Caregiver?
Pennsylvania's elder abuse laws are specifically targeted to “caregivers” of care-dependent people. “Caregivers” by Pennsylvania law are categorized as:
- Owners, administrators, managers, or employees of any type of dependent care facility or in-home care provider
- Anyone who provides care in these settings
- Anyone who is hired to provide care in these settings
How Does Elder Abuse Relate to Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania?
Many acts of violence against the elderly correlate to acts of domestic violence, but since the state doesn't categorize elder abuse by age, the crime of elder abuse in the state specifically deals with those who are designated caretakers of adult dependents. By contrast, domestic violence is designated as a crime against one's family or household members (mostly between spouses/domestic partners, but also may include live-in relatives). If you are accused of abusing an elderly relative, you will likely be charged under Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws unless you were also considered an official caregiver and your relative is care-dependent, in which case you may be facing elder abuse charges, as well.
What Happens If You Are Accused of Elder Abuse
If someone reports you to the local agency on aging and/or law enforcement for suspected elder abuse, you can expect any/all of the following to happen:
- Emergency orders. If the local agency on aging believes the alleged victim is in imminent danger, they may petition the court for emergency intervention to remove the victim from your care and/or the facility. The court may forcibly enter and provide direct care for the victim at that point for up to 72 hours, pending a formal hearing. (Family members and loved ones can also request these emergency orders.)
- Arrest and arraignment. You may be arrested and officially charged with crimes of elder abuse, either at your home or at your workplace.
- Immediate suspension and/or termination of your employment. If the alleged abuse occurred at a facility where you work, that facility is required by law at least to suspend your employment until your case is resolved. If you're convicted of a crime, you won't be allowed to work as a caregiver in the state even after serving your sentence.
Penalties for Elder Abuse in Pennsylvania
The penalties for elder abuse in Pennsylvania vary depending on the severity of the alleged abuse and whether or not it results in serious bodily injury. Elder abuse may be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.
- If you're charged with misdemeanor elder abuse, you could face fines up to $10,000 and up to 5 years in jail if convicted
- If you're charged with felony elder abuse, you could be fined up to $25,000 and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted
The primary difference between misdemeanor and felony charges is whether the victim sustained “serious bodily injury,” which is defined as “bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”
Criminal Defense Attorney for Elder Abuse Crimes
If you're accused of elder abuse in Pennsylvania, it's of the utmost importance not to face the charges on your own. Your choice of attorney could have a very definite impact on your future and your freedom. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will fight to ensure your rights are protected. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.