low priority (Nerenberg, 2000c). Financial crimes may also be given a low priority because investigating and prosecuting financial abuse can be extremely labor-intensive and time consuming. In addition, most police and prosecutors’ offices lack adequate resources for handling complex financial crimes. Advocates for the elderly argue that federal agencies should assist the states in prosecuting elder abuse (AARP, 2001).
Prosecutors may be unwilling to pursue such cases because the elderly may be poor witnesses, particularly if because of diminished mental capacity they are unable to recall details of the crime (Nerenberg, 2000c; Oh, 1999). Particularly frail victims are likely to decline, become incapacitated, or die during the course of what are often protracted proceedings (Nerenberg, 2000c). Elders may find the criminal justice system incomprehensible and inaccessible, particularly when the individual has a physical or mental disability (Nerenberg, 2000c). Calls have been made for improved communication with victims throughout the criminal justice process (Deem, 2000).
Even when a report has been received and an investigation is proceeding, the perpetrator may continue to deplete the elder person’s assets because many states have inadequate laws to freeze the victim’s assets or to limit the perpetrator’s ability to access those assets during the investigation (Nerenberg, 2000c). Complaints have been lodged that victims are not permitted to provide input into how much restitution to impose and that such restitution is often not a priority of the criminal justice system (Deem, 2000). It has been claimed that many judges fail to order restitution, prosecutors seldom ask for it, the system fails to consider the full value of the victims’ financial losses, there is an absence of a designated agency overseeing restitution, and victims are not provided help in recovering funds (Nerenberg, 2000c).
There may also be a lack of a clear definition of where jurisdiction lies in such a case, and if the activities crossed county, state, and federal boundaries, responsibility for investigation and prosecution may be unclear and resisted by various officials (Nerenberg, 2000c). Further complicating the assumption of responsibility is that financial abuse may occur in conjunction with other crimes, such as assault, neglect, or false imprisonment, which are handled by different police or prosecutorial units (Nerenberg, 2000c). Because securing needed evidence can take a long time and because the abuse may not be discovered until long after it occurred, the applicable statute of limitations may pose a significant barrier (Nerenberg, 2000c).
There are two general categories of criminal laws that the states use to punish individuals who financially abuse the elderly (Dessin, 2000). First, such abuse may be criminally prosecuted under the state’s general theft, extortion, or fraud statutes (Dessin, 2000; Moskowitz, 1998b), with some states permitting the sentencing judge to treat the advanced age of the