Bill Hikes Penalties for Crimes Against “Elders”
Hasher punishment for crimes against those 60 or older, but cost of bill unknown.
Penalties for crimes against anyone at least 60 years old – “an elder” – would increase dramatically under a bill approved by the Legislature and now awaiting action by Gov. Tony Evers.
The bill was approved despite the absence of any information about its financial impact.
Under Senate Bill 17:
- Any second-degree sexual assault against an elder would become a first-degree sexual assault and the maximum penalty would increase from 40 years in prison to 60 years in prison. It would not matter whether the offender knew the victim’s age.
- There would be an entirely new crime of “physical abuse of an elder person,” patterned after a law against physical abuse of a child. Penalties for violating the new law would vary from up to 3½ years in prison for recklessly causing great bodily harm to up to 40 years in prison for intentionally causing great bodily harm.
- Prosecutors could seek to freeze the assets of defendants in financial exploitation crime cases where the victim is an elder and the property involved is worth more than $2,500. The prosecutor could seek to freeze assets worth up to the full value involved in the alleged crime to preserve them for potential restitution to the victim.
- Maximum sentences for crimes committed against elders would automatically increase, whether or not the offender was aware of the victim’s age. The sentence for any crime punishable by up to one year of incarceration could be increased to a maximum of two years; the sentence for a crime punishable by one to 10 years of incarceration could be increased by an additional four years; and the sentence for a crime punishable by more than 10 years in prison could be increased by up to six years.
- Elders seeking domestic violence, individual-at-risk, or harassment restraining orders would be allowed to appear in a court hearing by telephone or audiovisual means. They currently must appear in person.
Several organizations supported the bill, including AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, the Outagamie County Board, and the State Bar. No organization registered against it.
“Senate Bill 17 helps to discourage bad actors from engaging in the abuse and exploitation of older Wisconsinites by increasing criminal penalties for related crimes and makes it easier for victims to file restraining orders,” State Rep. John J. Macco (R-Ledgeview) said in testimony supporting the bill. “Additionally, this bill streamlines court processes to freeze assets of a defendant, making it more likely for victims to receive financial restitution.”
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”