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Oregon Legislature to Enhance Elder Abuse Penalties?

This month, the Judiciary Committee of the Oregon House of Representatives conducted a public hearing on House Bill 2849, a bill which enhances certain penalties for elder abuse under Criminal Mistreatment in the First Degree, a Class C Felony. Under House Bill 2849, Criminal Mistreatment becomes a Class B felony if the victim is an elderly person (defined as a person 65 years or older). This difference is discussed below.

What is criminal mistreatment in the first degree? For elder abuse purposes, it involves a person that either (1) has a legal duty to provide care for an elderly person or (2) has assumed responsibility for the care of an elderly person. Such person then either causes physical injury to the elderly victim, neglects or endangers the health and safety of the elderly victim, or wrongfully takes the elderly victims money or assets.

Presently, Criminal Mistreatment in the First Degree is a Class C felony with a maximum sentence of 5 years and fine of $125,000. House Bill 2849 makes it a Class B felony, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and fine of $250,000. While this reclassification sounds tougher, the reality is that under Oregon's Sentencing Guidelines, there will unfortunately be little change in the sentences or fines of persons convicted of Criminal Mistreatment in the First Degree of an elderly person.

Nonetheless, the bill deserves support for another reason. House Bill 2849 prevents a person convicted of Criminal Mistreatment in the First Degree of an elderly person from having that conviction erased from his or her record. It also prevents a judge from being able to reduce the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor.

While House Bill 2849 is a good measure relating to criminal elder abuse penalties, the reality is that many victims of elderly abuse, especially financial elder abuse, are unable to find justice in the criminal system. Prosecutors are held to a standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that sometimes makes criminal prosecution for elder abuse difficult.

Slinde Nelson has experience in bringing civil elder abuse actions on behalf of elder victims under Oregon law. While the abuser will not face incarceration in a civil suit, Oregon law allows the victim to recover triple damages as well as attorney fees. Plus, the burden of proof is generally "by a preponderance of the evidence", rather than "beyond a reasonable doubt."

If you have questions about an elder abuse matter, either on behalf of yourself or someone else, please give us a call.

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