Bill Would Up Punishment for 'Continuous Abuse' of Children, the Elderly

A measure introduced by several local lawmakers would allow prosecutors to up the punishment range for 'long term abuse' of children, the disabled, and the elderly, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

.Bexar County District Attorney says for the crime to be a top count felony, with a punishment range of 5 to 99 years, prosecutors have to prove that there was 'serious bodily injury' involved, which sometimes cannot be proven. He says that has harmed his ability to go after people who routinely or regularly abuse vulnerable people.

"Injury to a child without serious bodily injury is a third degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years," LaHood said. "So what if somebody is continuously committing injury to a child, but not 'serious bodily injury?'  Are we okay with that?"

The measure, filed by San Antonio area State Senators Carlos Uresti and Donna Campbell and State Representative Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, would also up the minimum penalty for long term abuse with serious bodily injury from today's 5 years to 15 years, and would also up the punishment range for an offender who has a previous abuse conviction.

"This allows them the tools to allow them to make sure that anyone who is a serial abuser truly gets punished, at the level that they should," Gervin-Hawkins said.

LaHood says he understands the concerns about overcrowded jails and prisons, but crimes against the most vulnerable in our society deserve tough punishment.

He cited last years' case of the children who were found chained up behind a house on the city's northeast side as one of the reasons for this bill.  He said even though the case was very disturbing, it would be difficult to prove under existing laws that they had suffered 'serious bodily injury,' which would have allowed the suspects to   get off with relatively light sentences.  LaHood says it took expert medical testimony to allow his office to increase the charges in that case.

"Over the past two years, cases have come across my desk that have brought pain to my heart as a father, son, and public servant," he said.  "These cases have emboldened my passion to protect our most vulnerable citizens."

The measure has the support of local family court judges and police. 

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