Weekly Feature

2014-09-10 / Lifestyles

Caregiver may now accompany elderly during grand jury proceeding

The governor recently signed legislation into law that will allow an elderly crime victim to be accompanied by a caregiver or professional social worker when appearing as a witness during a grand jury proceeding.

“Grand jury proceedings can be stressful for any crime victim, especially for those who may be unwell, frail, confused and may suffer from other physical, mental or emotional impairments. It is because of these impairments that elderly victims, who may be unable to keep track of their affairs, are often targeted for financial abuse,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, who represents Kenmore and is the sponsor of the legislation.

In September 2013, the District Attorneys’ Association of the State of New York released a report identifying several obstacles prosecutors face when dealing with elder abuse cases, including tending to the needs of elderly witnesses suffering from emotional, physical and mental impairments during grand jury proceedings.

This new law intends to help address some fears victims may have about testifying before a grand jury. For instance, a witness may fear that the alleged abuser will seek retribution or place the victim in a nursing home facility.

Prior to this law, a prosecutor of elder abuse cases was often charged with wearing two hats during a grand jury proceeding — one as presenter of evidence and the other as temporary caregiver to adjust a wheel chair, reinsert a hearing aid or help with other necessities. These vulnerable elderly witnesses often remained overwhelmed with anxiety because of their physical, emotional and mental impairments.

Under the new law, which takes effect immediately, the caregiver would be there to help the witness in a very limited capacity and would not be allowed to speak on his or her behalf.

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