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Tough Penalties Urged For Elderly Assaults

Jan 30, 2003 | Manchester Union Leader

The Rockingham County attorney wants lawmakers to provide the elderly greater protection from criminal and sexual assaults.

Appearing before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee yesterday, Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams said he is making the request because of a case involving a 90-year-old, blind woman in a nursing home who was beaten by a nurse’s assistant who served no jail time for the crime.

The bill would allow enhanced penalties if the victim is 65 years old or older. Current law provides for enhanced penalties for criminal and sexual assault crimes if the victim is a child.

Supporters said elderly abuse is a growing problem across the country and that experts believe the amount of abuse is four times more than reported.

Reams said that when he was reviewing the case of the 90-year-old blind woman, he realized the person could only be charged with a misdemeanor, which has a maximum sentence of 12 months.

“I had no other options,” he said, but noted that under the enhanced penalties provision, he could have charged the defendant with a felony.

Reams said he asked for a jail sentence because of the severity of the crime and the case went to trial

“I asked for a jail sentence because I wanted to send a message to those similarly employed,” he said.

Although the woman never admitted she did anything, she was convicted but given a suspended sentence with no fine, he said.

“A 90-year-old blind woman was treated like a 19-year-old football player because there was no special protection,” Reams said.

But several members of the committee questioned if such a law is needed given recent legislation making it a crime to mistreat the elderly. Others wondered if the real problem might be lenient judges.

Others thought the bill bordered on discrimination because its only threshold to trigger enhanced penalties was the age of 65 years old.

Committee member Rep. Richard Kennedy, R-Hopkinton, said, “I’m 69 years old. If you take a poke at me, I’ll break every bone in your body.”

He suggested anybody who is impaired should be covered in the statute, but Reams said there would be far more contested litigations if that were the case.

Reams said he struggled with the age limit and could have said it had to involve a resident of a nursing home. He choose age because age was in the old statute, he said. A sub-committee was assigned to review the bill.

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