LD 527 An Act To Protect Elders and Vulnerable Adults from Exploitation has become law

Update: 7/10 the Legislature passed LD 527 and it became law without the Governor LePage’s signature.  Click here to read the bill.

[Click here for testimony before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee from Jessica Maurer, Executive Direction of Maine Assoc. of Area Agencies on Aging.]

[Click here to read an article on this bill in the Bangor Daily News.] 

The Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, in collaboration with many partners in the aging network have supported the drafting of this bill, which is a very measured response to a serious and very troubling issue – exploitation of our most vulnerable population.  Here are some facts:

· In 2012, the Department of Justice estimated that 1 in 9 people over 60 will be a victim of elder abuse and exploitation this year – that’s 33,000 people in Maine.

· Older Adults who are abused/mistreated are 3 times more likely to die within the next decade then the same age adults who are not mistreated.

· 90% of abusers are relatives, friends or caregivers.  Very few are strangers.

· 38,000 Mainers currently have some form of dementia.  Executive functioning – the ability to make clear decisions – is often the first thing to go when people are cognitively impaired.

· Very few victims report abuse and exploitation because they are dependent on the perpetrator for their care and they are afraid of institutionalization.

· Law enforcement and prosecutors have good hearts but resources are very limited and cases involving victims who cannot testify because of impairment or who are unwilling to because of fear are very difficult to investigate and even harder to prosecute, particularly if the victim “consented” to the crime.  Consent is a defense that perpetrators can and do raise in relation to financial exploitation or misuse of entrusted funds.

LD 527 takes a first step at trying to address this issue by clarifying the definition of “consent” in Maine’s criminal code.  It clarifies that consent cannot be given by a person with dementia or cognitive impairment and that “undue influence” is a unique form of duress and deception, two things that cannot induce consent.  Finally, it raises the severity of the crime of Misuse of Entrusted Property to a felony if the amounts misused are the same as those in the crimes of theft. 

Far too often financial exploitation is followed by other crimes, like physical and sexual assault.  Law enforcement and prosecutors need a better chance to investigate and bring these cases forward without having perpetrators claim the defense of consent.