An elderly criminal defendant who commits a crime is in an especially difficult position. What does the criminal justice system do with a defendant who has violated the law but who is of an age where it makes no sense to put him in jail? An elderly defendant can be someone who kills their aged and desperately ill spouse, acts out because of conflicting medications and a diminished mental state or perhaps someone who has committed an economic crime in an effort to make ends meet when he is on a fixed income.
Recent examples in the court system point out the difficulties in representing defendants who are elderly. In an economic crime like Worker’s Compensation Fraud an elderly defendant might continue to work after getting injured on the job simply to ensure that he is able to pay the bills. Of course, it is illegal to work without reporting that fact while receiving Worker’s Compensation benefits. This is because those benefits are based on the theory that the defendant isn’t working.
However, Worker’s Compensation benefits rarely allow the recipient to pay his bills. Many times young and old alike are tempted to work even though they are not supposed to while getting Worker’s Compensation benefits. If one gets benefits, those benefits will be cut or even terminated if the defendant goes back to work. If an elderly defendant is working to supplement his income and gets hurt he may be unable to even pay for his medicine and necessities of life.
Another situation can arise when an elderly person commits a violent crime which is completely out of character. Someone who is elderly and doesn’t have any prior record of any crime suddenly acts out in a violent fashion. He could have killed or attacked a roommate or family member. What does the criminal justice system do with these individuals?
A skilled criminal defense attorney will first and foremost handle the criminal defendant as an individual, working all of that individual’s personal traits to his benefit. In the Worker’s Compensation case, the motivation behind the misrepresentation may be that a spouse is ill, he has been injured and unable to work full time, and he is not well himself. Once the elderly can’t make ends meet after a lifetime of honest hard work it is devastating to be at the mercy of the government. One may violate the law after a lifetime of honesty. The motivation behind the criminal conduct isn’t greed. It can and must be explained as poor judgment by someone who felt all hope was gone.
With a violent outburst by an elderly defendant the motivation is also critical to the analysis. Violence may not be anything other than involuntary. Medications, senility, and dementia can all contribute to the cause of the violence. What good can come from putting a mentally diminished elder or an Alzheimer’s patient behind bars? The answer to the question is obvious.
An elderly defendant needs to be represented with care and compassion for his circumstances. It isn’t just the charge or charges that govern the outcome. Even elder clients charged with murder can find the criminal justice system isn’t without compassion as long as he finds the right representation.