Sometimes the severity of a criminal charge depends as much on who the victim is as what the defendant allegedly did. Texas takes a special interest in protecting vulnerable populations–i.e., children, the elderly, and the disabled–from criminal activity. This is reflected in Section 22.04 of the Texas Penal Code, which requires additional penalties when an individual commits a crime against members of those groups.
Crimes Against the Elderly
For purposes of Section 22.04, an “elderly” person is anyone who is at least 65 years old. The defendant’s age does not matter. If a 70-year-old man assaults a 65-year-old woman, the former can be charged under Section 22.04 even though both parties are over 65 and the defendant is older than the victim.
Nor is it a defense to Section 22.04 that the defendant did not know the victim’s age at the time of the alleged offense. While the criminal act itself must be “intentional, knowing, or reckless,” knowledge of the victim’s age is not necessary. This means it is entirely possible for a defendant to find themselves facing an elevated Section 22.04 charge without realizing it.
Crimes Against the Disabled
As noted above, Section 22.04 also applies to crimes against disabled individuals. “Disability” includes any person who suffers from one or more of the following conditions:
- Autism spectrum disorder;
- Developmental disability, i.e. a severe, chronic condition attributable to any combination of mental or physical impairments that limits a person’s ability to carry out “major life activities”;
- Intellectual disability;
- Severe emotional disturbance, i.e. a mental or behavioral disorder that “substantially interferes” with a person’s ability to function in social settings; and
- Traumatic brain injury.
Similar to crimes against the elderly, Texas law does not require proof that the defendant knew the alleged victim was disabled under any of the criteria listed above. But unlike age, which is an immutable characteristic, it is possible in a criminal trial to challenge an accuser’s “disabled” status. Indeed, this is a question for a trier of fact–the jury, or a judge in a bench trial–to decide.
Potential Liability for Nursing Home and Assisted Living Facilities
Section 22.04 covers three specific areas of criminal activity involving the elderly and disabled:
- Serious bodily injury;
- Serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury; or
- Bodily injury.
Criminal liability extends not only to the individuals who commit such acts directly, but in certain cases to the owners, operators, and employees of facilities designed to care for protected individuals, such as a nursing home or an intermediate living facility for the mentally disabled. Specifically, these owners, operators, and employees are liable not only for causing injury, but for an “omission” that leads to injury in violation of a statutory duty to act. In simpler terms, if a facility voluntarily assumes the responsibility to care for a disabled or elderly individual, it can be charged under Section 22.04 if through negligence or failure to act someone commits bodily injury against that individual.
A Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help
All criminal charges are serious. But when an elderly or disabled person is the accuser or alleged victim, the consequences of a conviction are even more dire. If you have been charged and need help from an experienced Collin County criminal defense lawyer, call the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas today at 972-369-0577.