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Aging Well: New law for crimes against seniors

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A new law will help kupuna with Aging Well by helping protect them against crimes against senior citizens. Lawmakers say it adds another layer of protection for kupuna.

Wahiawa resident Carol Merez says her 87-year-old mother is a victim of financial abuse from five siblings in a case that now involves attorneys. Two of siblings declined to comment, but their lawyer, Richard Diehl, says it's the other way around. he says it's Merez and her sister who are abusing their mother.

"It's myself and my sister who stand in my mother's corner because we feel there's a terrible injustice here. The other side feels nothing's wrong," Merez says.

She's happy to know on July 1, Governor David Ige signed into law a bill that increases penalties for crimes against senior citizens. "We need to shine more light on the abuses that are happening to our elder people," says Merez.

The legislature's Kupuna Caucus and county prosecutors crafted House Bill 490 because they say there are way too many crimes against kupuna, who are vulnerable to assault, theft, and financial abuse.

In 2019, the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office handled 229 felony cases involving elderly victims. Here is the breakdown of the felonies:

• 67 Theft and Financial Fraud cases

• 50 Burglaries

• 34 Assaults, Threats with Weapons, and Kidnappings

• 33 Car Thefts and Break-Ins

• 17 Robberies

• 2 Homicides

• 26 Miscellaneous (includes Arson and Property Damage offenses)

Gov. Ige says, "We see every day stories of criminals targeting our kupuna. It's tragic and totally unacceptable. House Bill 490 will add further protection to our most vulnerable adults by standardizing the age at which certain crimes apply against kupuna."

Rep. Gregg Takayama, chair of House Committee on Higher Education and Technology, adds, "This bill sends a strong message to criminals that we will not tolerate the kupuna in our community, the most vulnerable members of our community."

Under this law, if someone knows they're committing a crime against a person aged 60 years or older -amended from age 62 - they will face harsher punishment. 

Rep. Takayama points out, "Now that the people are returning to work, students are returning to school, that leaves seniors home by themselves or going shopping for their families by themselves."

Crimes include intentional bodily injury, unauthorized entry into a dwelling, theft, or forgery.

"It's too easy to do this. It's so easy for the children of elder parents to manipulate. The parents are so trusting," says Merez, who hopes this law will be a deterrent - so another family doesn't have to go through the nightmare she says is happening to hers.

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