Can Dementia Patients Be Criminally Prosecuted in Alabama?

Posted by Steve Eversole | Aug 05, 2013 | 0 Comments

Recently, an 80-year-old hospital patient was arrested for assault in Alabama, after he allegedly became agitated while receiving a CT scan at a local hospital.

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According to news reports, the incident, which happened just north of Gadsen, involved a technician and a police officer. The patient is alleged to have become irritated during the scan and put his hands around the neck of a technician and then pulled her hair. Authorities say the man was then escorted outside the hospital, where he allegedly struck a police officer in the face.

A police spokesman is quoted as saying the suspect "isn't your typical 80-year-old." Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers are not health care professionals, but given the man's age and sudden aggressiveness of his actions, it wouldn't surprise us if it was revealed the man had a form of dementia.

If that is the case, there is a strong possibility that this case will never make it to trial. In fact, the charges could be dropped altogether.

The reason has to do with a person's mental competence both at the time of the offense and to stand trial.

According to Rule 11 of Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, defendants may raise a defense of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, either by filing a pre-trial motion or by entering a plea. Alternatively, the district attorney's office may move for an examination of the person's mental competency.

This defense can be raised if the condition existed at the time of the offense. If a person has been diagnosed as having Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia or diminished mental capacity, this would certainly apply.

We anticipate seeing more and more of these kinds of cases because as it now stands, one out of every three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or some form of dementia, which becomes an increasing risk with age. As baby boomers enter their golden years, the number of people with Alzheimer's disease or dementia is going to skyrocket.

Today, some 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, with the vast majority of those over the age of 65. It is estimated that an American develops Alzheimer's disease every 68 seconds. By the year 2050, that figure will shoot up to one person developing the disease every 33 seconds, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Aggression for those with Alzheimer's disease often flares up in later stages of the condition, according to WebMd. A person can become easily angered, agitated and abusive, usually for no real reason. The abuse might be verbal or it could escalate to a physical assault that includes throwing objects, pushing, hitting, biting or kicking. Sometimes, it can flare up without warning, and then other times, there are triggers.

In any case, holding someone criminally responsible for their actions when their mental capacity is significantly diminished is not fair under the law.

That doesn't mean that these individuals won't face arrest for their actions. Often, the availability of social services for these individuals is inadequate, meaning it's simply easier in the immediate for caregivers to call police and have them arrest the person and take them to jail.

Alabama Code 13A-6-20 holds that a conviction for assault is a Class B felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

It's important that family members of arrested dementia patients seek immediate legal counsel for this person. Sometimes a strong argument can be made for a reduction or dismissal of criminal charges, even if the person is in the early phases of the disease.

If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:

Alabama police arrest 80-year-old hospital patient, July 30, 2013, Associated Press

About the Author

Steve Eversole

Admitted to practice in All State and Federal Courts in Alabama: AllAlabama State Courts, Alabama Supreme Court, Alabama Court of Appeals,Northern...

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