In Florida, it is a felony crime to abuse or neglect an elderly or disabled person. While such a crime sounds bad, it is also very vague as to what is required to actually commit the crime in Florida. Under Florida law, elder abuse or abuse of a disabled person includes inflicting psychological or physical injury upon an elderly or disabled person. Criminal neglect of an elderly or disabled person involves a failure to provide supervision, care or services to the elderly or disabled person to maintain his/her psychological and/or physical health. If a person commits abuse on an elderly or disabled person and that person is not seriously injured, it is a third degree felony in Florida. The same goes for neglect of an elderly or disabled person. If the victim is seriously injured or certain aggravating factors are present, the crime could be a second or first degree felony.
However, not all improper conduct, or omissions, involving the elderly or disabled that results in injury to the alleged victim qualifies as a crime in Florida. In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, a caretaker was responsible for taking care of a 90 year old woman. The allegations against the defendant were that she would give the woman sleeping pills that were not prescribed for her to put her to sleep so she could have male friends over. This occurred over a six month period. As a result, the state charged her with neglect of an elderly and/or disabled person.
One issue with facing a charge like this is a jury will often overlook the details of the case and the specifics of the law and find a defendant guilty out of sympathy for the victim and/or disdain for the defendant. And that is what happened in this case. The problem was the state made an error by charging the woman with elder neglect. Neglect implies that the defendant failed to do something that was necessary to maintain the well being of the victim. In this case, the facts suggested that the defendant committed an act, or many acts, that placed the victim at risk of serious injury as it is dangerous to give someone, particuarlyl an elderly person, a drug that is not prescribed for her. While the defendant’s conduct was wrong, and it was probably abuse, it was not neglect because it was not an omission but an act that created the risk to the victim.
As a result of the state’s mistake in how they charged the defendant, the court reversed the conviction, and the defendant got away with the apparent elder abuse. This is an example of a case where the defendant was most likely guilty of committing a crime, however if the state does not understand the law and does not charge the crime properly, the state cannot proceed with a conviction.