While most crimes focus on the criminal acts of the accused, and sometimes on their state of mind at the time of the offense, there are some crimes that require a specific kind of victim. The crimes that most likely come to mind here would be those protecting children, such as laws against child pornography or child abuse, or laws protecting women specifically against domestic violence. Disabled and elder adults are another group of people that have specific laws criminalizing abuse or exploitation against them.

In North Carolina, there are two main categories these crimes fall under: abuse and fraud. In both cases, these are serious crimes that require experienced representation. First and foremost, these crimes can be punished more severely than the underlying offense if it was committed against an able younger adult. Second, alleged abuse or exploitation of elders or people with disabilities lead to very emotionally driven trials. If you are facing such charges, you will need an experienced attorney to help give you the best possible defense in court.

arm of an elder disabled man clutching a walking stick

Abuse of Neglect of a Disabled or Elder Adult

The first category of crimes against disabled or elder adults is abuse, which shares many similarities with child abuse and domestic violence. In essence, these laws make it a crime for caretakers of elder or disabled adults to abuse or neglect the people in their care, just as it is a crime to abuse one’s child in their care. In North Carolina, a disabled adult and elder adult are defined as follows:

  • Disabled Adult: a person 18 years or older or a lawfully emancipated minor who is present in North Carolina and who is physically or mentally incapacitated.
  • Elder Adult: a person aged 60 years or older who is not able to provide for the social, medical, psychiatric, psychological, financial, or legal services necessary to safeguard his or her rights and resources or to maintain his or her physical and mental well-being.

For the purposes of this crime, a “caretaker” is somebody who assumed the responsibility for care of the adult by virtue of family relationship, by voluntarily by contract. The term “domestic setting” refers to a residence in any setting except a healthcare facility or residential care facility, as there are laws that specifically address patient abuse in those settings.

There are three variations of this crime based on the harm caused, which are punished at different degrees of severity. It is important to note that even the least severe form of the crime is still punished as a felony.

Neglect of a Disabled or Elder Adult Causing Mental or Physical Injury

A person is guilty of this crime when they:

  1. are a caretaker,
  2. of a disabled adult or an elder adult, who is residing in a domestic setting, and
  3. wantonly, recklessly, or with gross carelessness does at least one of the following:
    • fails to provide medical or hygienic care to the adult, or
    • confines or restrains the adult in a place or under a condition that is cruel or unsafe, and
  4. as a result, the adult suffers mental or physical injury.

The key element of this crime that sets it apart from other crimes in the category is that the criminal act must have been negligent. This means that the caretaker did not have the intent to cause the adult in their care harm, but did not act with the required or expected due diligence of care to prevent any kind of physical or mental injury that is not “serious” (i.e. causing more long-term damage).

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class I felony.

Neglect of a Disabled or Elder Adult Causing Serious Mental or Physical Injury

This crime is nearly-identical to the above, but with one distinction: the injury, whether mental or physical, must be serious. “Serious injury” is not defined under this law, but can be found elsewhere in North Carolina law to mean mental and physical damage such as:

  • pain and suffering
  • loss of blood
  • hospitalization
  • time off work
  • feelings of severe depression, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • insomnia

As a general idea, serious injury should be something that either causes a great deal of pain when it happened, or has some lasting harmful effects, though not to the point of permanent and debilitating damage to a person’s body. It is important to keep in mind here that seriousness is measured in terms of the damages endured by the victim, not the force used against them or resulting from their neglect. This can catch caretakers by surprise because many disabled or elder adults can experience much more serious injuries from force that would leave younger or able people barely harmed.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class G felony.

Abuse of a Disabled or Elder Adult Causing Mental or Physical Injury

This crime is similar to neglect above, but with a different requirement for the defendant’s state of mind and it includes assault as an option for the offending act. A person is guilty of this crime when they:

  1. are a caretaker,
  2. of a disabled adult or an elder adult, who is residing in a domestic setting, and
  3. with malice, knowingly and willfully does at least one of the following:
    • assaults the adult,
    • fails to provide medical or hygienic care to the adult, or
    • confines or restrains the adult in a place or under a condition that is cruel or unsafe, and
  4. as a result, the adult suffers mental or physical injury.

Essentially, “abuse” differs from neglect in that abuse involves the knowledge or desire to inflict harm or fail to prevent harm. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony.

Abuse of a Disabled or Elder Adult Causing Serious Mental or Physical Injury

This crime is almost identical to the above except that it specifically criminalizes serious injury. As discussed previously, serious injury tends to be more painful or long-term, though the force of impact against the disabled or elder adult may not be that strong given their vulnerability to serious injury.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class FB felony.

Exploitation of Disabled or Elder Adults

The second variation of crimes against disabled or elder adults comes to play in cases of fraud rather than care-taking. There are two variations of this crime that mostly differ in the relationship the elder or disabled adult has to the defendant.

The first thing to note here is that the definitions of elder and disabled adult are the same as the ones used above in abuse cases.

Exploitation Through a Position of Trust or Business Relationship

Many disabled or elder people employ others, whether they are members of the family or professionals signing a contract, to handle their financial assets and securities. When a person has willfully taken that position of trust and exploits it, they will be guilty of a serious crime. 

To be specific, a person is guilty of this crime when they:

  1. Stand in a position of trust and confidence or have a business relationship with the elder or disabled adult, and
  2. knowingly, by deception or intimidation,
  3. obtain, use, or endeavor to obtain or use the elder or disabled person’s funds, assets, or property,
  4. with the intent to deprive the person of that property temporarily or permanently, and benefit someone other than the elder or disabled adult.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class F felony if the property is valued at $100,000 or more, a class G felony if the value is $20,000 or more but less than $1000,000, and a Class H felony if the property is worth less than $20,000.

Exploitation of an Elder or Disabled Adult Lacking Capacity

The main difference between this crime and the above is that the guilty person must have known or reasonably known that the disabled or elder person had diminished capacity to consent, and it is not required that the defendant was in a position of trust or business relationship.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class G felony if the property is valued at $100,000 or more, a class H felony if the value is $20,000 or more but less than $1000,000, and a class I felony if the property is worth less than $20,000.

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