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August 30, 2008

Elder Abuse: Verdict Sparks Call For Change to Law (USA)

Plug elder abuse loophole
Prosecutor Tim Barker is right that the law should be changed.

Daily Record/Sunday News
: 08/29/2008

State Attorney General Tom Corbett talks about his Elder Abuse Unit in 2006. State officials should close looppoles in elderly abuse system.
(YORK DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS-JASON PLOTKIN)

In our system of justice, it's difficult to question the wisdom of the jury -- 12 ordinary people charged with sifting through sometimes confusing evidence to determine the facts and apply the law. It is one of the cornerstones of our democracy.

But in the case of William and Frances Donahue, acquitted of murder last week in the elder abuse death of William Donahue's 87-year-old mother, Bernadette Leiben, the jury's decision was a shock to prosecutor Tim Barker.

Mr. Barker thought the facts of the case clearly supported a murder conviction. Mrs. Leiben had died a slow death, and the evidence presented at the trial indicated that the Donahues' neglect led to her demise. Mr. Barker argued that the Donahues' intent was to kill Mrs. Leiben and that the level of neglect pointed to that conclusion.

The jury found otherwise, deciding that the neglect did not indicate the specific intent to kill needed to support a murder conviction.

At first, the jury's decision -- to convict only Mrs. Donahue of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter -- distressed Mr. Barker. It seemed, to him, like a very light penalty for causing the death of another human being.

But then, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that the system had worked and that the jury did its job, applying the law to the facts of the case.

The problem wasn't with the jury.

It was with the law.


Mr. Barker's ruminating over the verdict led him to conclude that there's a gap in the law and that it should be closed.

The law protects children from neglect that results in death, but is nearly silent on similar cases involving the elderly.

The state Legislature, more than a decade ago, recognized that neglect of children that results in death is a more serious crime than a misdemeanor. Lawmakers amended the law to make such cases a second-degree felony carrying a 10-year maximum sentence. That charge would be in addition to murder or manslaughter charges neglectful adults could possibly face in such cases.

That no such protection exists for the elderly seems like a serious hole in the law. Current elder abuse laws address only neglect by caretakers paid to care for the elderly -- not family members.

Elderly people who are dependent upon others for their well-being deserve the same protection under the law as children, who are also dependent upon others for their well-being.

As a matter of justice, it seems like a no-brainer.

It would make a lot of sense for one of our state legislators to make this proposal, to get the Legislature to close this gap in the law. Provide prosecutors with the same tools they use to protect our children to protect vulnerable senior citizens.

It just makes too much sense not to happen.

Call your legislator and ask them to make sure it does.

SOURCE: York Daily Record
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Elder Rights advocates have been calling for the change in the law to better protect our seniors for a while. This latest development is encouraging, however, we need a lot more people in every profession and every level of government to recognize this fact.

Furthermore, every country in the world should also wake up to this issue. Scanning the media from many countries, one would be led to believe that "Elder Abuse" only occur in the USA, UK and Canada. Of course, this is NOT true! Just that, those governments prefer to bury their collective "heads" in the sand.

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Any Charges Reported on this blog are Merely Accusations and the Defendants are Presumed Innocent Unless and Until Proven Guilty.

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