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Prosecutors in Queens County, New York, have developed a creative legal theory to enhance the punishments that might be imposed against criminals who prey on the elderly by committing thefts and frauds.

In several recent cases, they have charged criminal defendants with hate crimes based on these defendants having singled out elderly victims because of a belief or perception regarding…[their] age… Of course, hate crime prosecutions are typically brought in cases involving persons victimized because of race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. However, the Queens prosecutors’ novel approach is already resulting in guilty pleas and enhanced sentences.

This new legal theory has not yet been tested in the appellate courts, and prosecutors around the state and elsewhere will no doubt be watching closely before deciding if this new weapon should be put to broader use.

Of course, the first line of defense against thefts and financial crimes against the elderly is to make sure that they are properly cared for and looked after. Friends and family should be alert to the possibility that their loved ones could become crime victims when their health and mental capacity begins to decline. This may be the right time to consult an Elder Law Attorney about planning for long-term care.

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