ARS 13-3623 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of elder abuse. People commit this offense if, under certain circumstances, they cause an elderly person or vulnerable adult to suffer a physical injury, allow such a person to be injured, or allow such a person to be placed in a situation that endangers the person’s health or well-being. A violation of this law can lead to a Class 2 felony charge punishable by over 12 years in state prison.
- a caregiver overmedicating a nursing home patient.
- social workers ridiculing and demeaning a group of senior citizens.
- family members not feeding an elderly loved one who cannot care for himself.
People accused of elder abuse can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that:
- the alleged “victim” was not vulnerable,
- the “victim” was injured by something other than abuse, and/or
- they were falsely accused.
A Class 2 felony is the most severe charge and is punishable by custody in state prison for over 12 years.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related crimes.
1. How does Arizona law define “elder abuse”?
Arizona’s elder abuse law applies to “vulnerable adults.” A vulnerable adult means an individual who is 18 years of age or older and who is unable to protect himself from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by others because of mental impairment or physical impairment (for example, an incapacitated adult).i
Under Arizona law, people are guilty of elder abuse if they, under certain circumstances, do any of the following:
- cause a vulnerable adult to suffer physical injury,
- allow a vulnerable adult to be injured, or
- allow a vulnerable adult to be placed in a situation that endangers the person’s health or well-being.ii
The abuse that triggers elder abuse charges can include:
- physical abuse,
- sexual abuse,
- emotional abuse,
- financial abuse or financial exploitation (perhaps, for example, via identity theft), or
- abuse to the vulnerable adult’s property.
To secure a conviction under this law, a prosecutor has to show that the defendant committed elder abuse and he/she did so either:
- intentionally or knowingly,
- recklessly, or
- with criminal negligence.iii
A few definitions here are helpful:
- “knowingly” means that a person is aware or believes that their conduct is of a nature or that a particular circumstance exists,iv
- “recklessly” means that a person commits an act although aware of, and in grossly conscious disregard to, a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to some person,v and
- “criminal negligence” is when a person acts while failing to perceive that the act may result in a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm.vi
Note that this law does not apply to:
- a health care provider who permits a patient to die or the patient’s condition to deteriorate by not providing health care if the patient refuses that care through a care directive (like a health care power of attorney), surrogate, or a court-appointed guardian, or
- a vulnerable adult who is being furnished spiritual treatment through prayer and who would not otherwise be considered to be abused, neglected, or endangered if medical treatment were being given.
2. Are there defenses to elderly abuse charges?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to defend against elder abuse charges. A few common ones include the attorneys showing that:
- the “victim” was not vulnerable.
- the “victim” was injured by something other than abuse.
- the defendant was falsely accused.
2.1 No vulnerable adult
An alleged abuser is only guilty of elderly abuse if the “victim” is a vulnerable adult. A defense, then, is for a defendant to show that the alleged abuse victim was not “vulnerable.” For example, maybe the person was a senior but did not suffer from mental health or physical impairment.
2.2 Injury by something other than abuse
Vulnerable adults often get hurt or become endangered in a variety of different ways (for example, through falling while trying to walk or through self-neglect). Therefore, defendants can try to establish their innocence by showing that the “victim” was injured by something other than abuse.
2.3 Falsely accused
People often get falsely accused of elder abuse. For instance, a jealous family member may wrongfully accuse a caregiver of abuse. Or a mean-spirited neighbor might falsely accuse a sibling of elder abuse. A defense, then, is for accused people to show that they were unjustly blamed.
3. What are the penalties?
The penalties for elderly abuse will depend on the specific facts of a case.
If a defendant commits the abuse under circumstances likely to cause death or serious injury to the vulnerable adult, then the crime is charged as either a:
- Class 2 felony, if the defendant acted intentionally or knowingly (a Class 2 felony is punishable by over 12 years in prison),
- Class 3 felony, if the defendant acted recklessly (a Class 3 felony is punishable by almost nine years in prison), or
- Class 4 felony, if the defendant acted with criminal negligence (a Class 4 felony is punishable by almost four years in prison).
If a defendant commits abuse under circumstances other than those likely to produce death or serious injury, then the crime is charged as either a:
- Class 4 felony, if the defendant acted intentionally or knowingly,
- Class 5 felony, if the defendant acted recklessly (a Class 5 felony is punishable by up to two years, six months in prison), or
- Class 6 felony, if the defendant acted with criminal negligence (a Class 6 felony is punishable by up to two years in prison).
4. Can I file a lawsuit in an elder abuse case?
Yes. A person can file a lawsuit against a person, company, care facility, or institution if it has neglected a vulnerable adult or abused one either:
- financially, or
A lawsuit can be brought even if the abuser has or will be convicted of the crime of elder abuse.
Civil suits are authorized to be filed under the Arizona Adult Protective Services Statutes.
Elders can file a suit to try and recover losses for:
- medical expenses,
- lost wages,
- pain and suffering, and
- loss of enjoyment of life.
5. How do I report suspected elder abuse?
People can always report instances of abuse, or make abuse referrals, to peace officers or law enforcement agents.
If in an emergency situation, a person can also report elder abuse by contacting 9-1-1.
In non-emergency abuse situations, people can contact:
- (877) SOS-ADULT or (877) 767-2385 – Adult Protective Services (APS) abuse hotline,
- (602) 264-HELP or (602) 264-4357 – Area Agency on Aging 24hr Helpline, or
- (844) 894-4735 or (602) 542-2124 – Attorney General’s Taskforce Against Senior Abuse (TASA) Helpline.
Cases involving the abuse of an elder’s financial resources can get reported via (844) 894-4735 or (602) 542-2124 Attorney General’s TASA Helpline.
People can also report instances of elder abuse online at the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s website.
According to the Arizona Attorney General’s website, people should report the following forms of abuse:
- financial (for example, unlawfully accessing a vulnerable adult’s bank accounts), and
6. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to elderly abuse. These are:
- theft – ARS 13-1802,
- assault – ARS 13-1203, and
- domestic violence – 13-3601.
6.1 Theft – ARS 13-1802
Per ARS 13-1802, theft is the crime where people knowingly use or take someone else’s property or services without lawful authority to do so.
As with elder abuse, theft is typically a felony offense under Arizona law.
6.2 Assault – ARS 13-1203
Under ARS 13-1203, assault is the offense where people either:
- intentionally or recklessly cause physical injury to someone,
- intentionally place another person in fear of physical injury, or
- knowingly touch someone with the intent to injure or provoke them.
Note that if someone assaults a vulnerable adult, then the police can charge the party with both:
- assault, and
- elder abuse.
6.3 Domestic violence – ARS 13-3601
Under ARS 13-3601, domestic violence is a crime where:
- a person commits one of the crimes specifically mentioned in the statute (for example, sexual assault), and
- the defendant is in a certain relationship with the “victim” (for example, married to the victim or in a romantic or sexual relationship with the victim).
Elder abuse is one of the crimes specifically mentioned in this statute. If a defendant commits it against someone that he is in a certain relationship with, then, the party can be charged with both:
- elder abuse, and
- domestic violence.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law office at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- A.R.S. 13-3623F6.
- ARS 13-3623A and B. See also State v. Rodriguez, No. 2 CA-CR 2019-0085 (Ariz. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2021).
- ARS 13-3623A and B.
- A.R.S. 13-105(10)(b).
- State ex Rel. Thomas v. Duncan, 216 Ariz. 260 (2007). See also ARS 13-105(10)(c).
- ARS 13-105.