“A state judge has ruled that Montana's elder exploitation law is too vague and doesn't require evidence of criminal intent to prosecute.”
US News & World Report explains in its article “Judge Rule's State's Elder Exploitation Law Is Vague” that the judge’s ruling came last week in the case of an 80-year-old woman, Rose-Marie Bowman of Missoula.
She’s charged with taking money from an account for which she was a co-signor, after the other co-signor gave her control of his finances in 2012. The victim, Lanny Franzen, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Missoula County Prosecutors say she manipulated Franzen into putting money into the account.
Attorneys for Bowman asked for the elder exploitation charge to be dismissed, arguing the law could be used to prosecute innocent actions. District Judge Robert “Dusty” Deschamps agreed, holding that the statute "is so broad and devoid of any requirements for proof of a criminal state of mind by the accused, a person is left to guess what specific acts might be allowed or prohibited by statute."
The prosecutors have several days to decide if they want to appeal the judge’s ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, file charges under another law, or drop the case. Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst says she's consulting with the state attorney general's office.
Pabst commented that judges have previously struck down statutes, because of vagueness but this situation is still "unusual."
This type of exploitation, according to the statute, happens when someone knowingly “obtains or uses” an older, incapacitated, or developmentally disabled person’s “funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive” the respective victim. In a motion to dismiss the case, Bowman’s attorneys argued that the vagueness of the statute lets prosecutors to pursue a son who accepts a gift from his elderly mother.
The issue hinges on the words “obtain” and “use.” These terms are not clearly defined by the state legislature concerning criminal exploitation.
Reference: US News & World Report (August 24, 2018) “Judge Rule's State's Elder Exploitation Law Is Vague”