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Exploitation of the Elderly and Disabled Under Florida Criminal Law

Exploitation of the Elderly and Disabled Under Florida Criminal Law

Florida has a large and growing elderly population. Unfortunately, some bad apples try to take advantage of seniors and people with disabilities. It’s really messed up. Florida lawmakers have passed special laws to crack down on exploitation of vulnerable adults. Let’s take a look at how Florida criminal law deals with this important issue.

What is Exploitation?

Exploitation means taking advantage of a vulnerable adult for personal gain. For example, exploitation could involve:

  • Stealing the person’s money or property
  • Cashing checks without permission
  • Getting the person to sign over assets or change their will
  • Misusing a power of attorney
  • Identity theft

You get the idea. It’s like preying on the weak. Not cool.

Florida law defines an “elderly person” as someone 60 years old or older. A “disabled adult” has a mental, emotional, or physical disability that impairs their ability to care for themselves or manage their property.

Felony Exploitation of the Elderly or Disabled

Under Florida Statute 825.103, it’s a felony to exploit an elderly or disabled person for personal gain.

The crime involves knowingly:

  • Obtaining the victim’s funds, assets, or property
  • Using deception, intimidation, or undue influence
  • With the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive them of benefits

For example, a caregiver who secretly uses the person’s ATM card or a family member who tricks a relative into signing over property could face felony charges.

Exploitation of the elderly or disabled in Florida is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

If the funds, assets, or property involved are valued at $50,000 or more, it becomes a first degree felony with up to 30 years behind bars. Ouch.

Defenses to Exploitation Charges

Facing criminal charges is scary. Luckily, there are potential defenses in exploitation cases.

For starters, the accused has to act “knowingly and willfully” to be convicted. This means prosecutors must prove you deliberately exploited the victim.

You may have a defense if there was no criminal intent. For example, if you genuinely believed you had permission to use the person’s money or property.

Lack of consent is also a defense. Like if the elderly person said it was OK to borrow their car or cash a check. Consent should be express and competent.

Another defense is you weren’t the one who committed exploitation. Perhaps you were wrongly accused or it was someone else’s fault.

Evidence problems can also derail exploitation cases. If the prosecution lacks solid proof you’re guilty, the charges could get tossed.

Enhanced Penalties for Certain Victims

Under Florida Statute 825.103, penalties escalate if the victim is:

  • 60 years old or older (enhanced to second degree felony)
  • Suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia (enhanced to second degree felony)
  • Disabled and has certain physical or mental conditions that impair their ability to care for themselves (enhanced to second degree felony)

Second degree felonies in Florida carry up to 15 years imprisonment.

The law takes a hard line if victims are especially vulnerable. But enhanced punishments give the accused more reason to fight the charges.

Restitution for Financial Losses

As part of sentencing, courts can order restitution payments to repay victims for financial losses from exploitation.

Restitution is mandatory if the elderly or disabled person suffers an economic injury. The court sets restitution amounts.

For example, if $25,000 was stolen, the convicted person might have to pay it back. This provides money for things like medical bills, counseling, or replacing stolen items.

Reporting Suspected Exploitation

If you suspect an elderly or disabled person is being exploited, report it to authorities. Tips can trigger an investigation that stops further abuse.

In Florida, you can report suspected exploitation to:

DCF and the Department of Elder Affairs have protective services units that investigate reports and provide victim support.

Civil Lawsuits Also Possible

Beyond criminal charges, victims can file civil lawsuits against perpetrators. These lawsuits seek money damages for financial losses.

With help from an attorney, victims can bring personal injury or fraud claims against people who exploited them. Civil cases have a lower burden of proof than criminal ones.

If successful, civil judgments can recover assets, recoup stolen funds, and collect other damages. This provides another way for elderly and disabled victims to obtain justice.

Final Thoughts

Mistreating vulnerable adults is reprehensible. Florida throws the book at those who exploit the elderly and disabled through deception, intimidation, or undue influence.

Stiff felony charges and enhanced penalties await anyone convicted of exploitation. Knowingly taking advantage of seniors and disabled people for personal gain is a crime that won’t be tolerated.

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