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Associated Press , Published October 19 2013

Case tests new law protecting vulnerable adults

ANOKA, Minn. – A case before the courts is one of the first charged under a revised Minnesota law that allows people accused of willfully neglecting vulnerable adults to be charged with felonies.

A criminal complaint filed in Anoka County this month alleges Dawn Kulbeik, 54, of Conn Rapids, sat by as her 87-year-old mother’s health deteriorated, leading to medical complications that ultimately killed her last year. She’s only the second person charged with felony neglect of a vulnerable adult under the revised statute. There has yet to be a conviction.

Kulbeik, who was her mother’s live-in caregiver, faces two counts of criminal neglect, one of which is a felony. She’s due in court Nov. 19.

Until last year, the worst charge a Minnesotan could face for neglecting a vulnerable adult was a gross misdemeanor.

“These first few prosecutions are going to be very, very important,” said Kimberly Dayton, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law and director of the school’s Center for Elder Justice and Policy.

“They could define the parameters for law enforcement, what quantum and quality of evidence prosecutors will need to be successful, how juries will react. ... They could be precedent-setting,” she said.

The statute was amended in 2012 after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman and others lobbied for stronger penalties. The felony charge carries up to 10 years in prison, versus a maximum of one year for a gross misdemeanor.

Pushback from opponents had stalled efforts to change the law, said David Brown, criminal deputy for the Hennepin County attorney’s office.

“There were a lot of misperceptions among opponents that this would be used to prosecute inattention in a nursing home that resulted in some sort of harm to a resident,” Dayton said. “That was not its purpose. Its purpose was to deal with situations like this one.”

Neglect of vulnerable adults, particularly the elderly, remains vastly unreported, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said.

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