Jennifer Dupre, District Attorney Sutter County

Jennifer Dupre: District Attorney Sutter County

Q: Up to 5 million older Americans are abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.6 billion. Elder abuse is a silent problem that robs seniors of their dignity, security and in some cases, costs them their lives. What would you recommend to combat elder abuse?

JD: As a current special victims prosecutor, I deal with elder abuse – both physical and financial – on a daily basis. It is a class of crime very dear to my heart as my 82 year old father lives with me. Elders have earned the right to live their lives without being abused or stolen from, especially from those they should be most able to trust.

It absolutely is a silent problem, but it doesn’t need to be. To combat it, we need more public education. Neighbors need to know the signs of physical and financial elder abuse to keep an eye out for, and they need to know who to contact (APS and law enforcement) when they see the signs. We need to eliminate the “I don’t want to get involved” mentality that prevents so many from reporting suspected elder abuse. We need to drive home that a report can be made anonymously, and APS needs consistency in their investigations.

We also need aggressive, fearless, prosecution. I personally have prosecuted several cases in which family members were stealing money from elders. Yes, these cases can be difficult – the elders don’t want to speak poorly of or are afraid of their children, and the cases can be challenging, having to follow the paper trail. But I haven’t given in to the regular defense requests to reduce felony charges to misdemeanors.

I work closely with IHSS and APS as well. In fact, I recently prosecuted 2 cases in which caregivers were neglecting and/or abusing those they were supposed to be caring for. Although both caregivers claimed that they were overwhelmed and/or lacked training, both pled to the felonies with which they were charged. That is thanks to my getting to know the policies and procedures of IHSS, not being afraid to obtain and review all the employment and training records of the caregivers, and reviewing all of the APS reports involved. Developing the relationships necessary to be effective in these cases is crucial, and something I take very seriously.

These crimes are so heinous and callous that I aggressively hold defendants fully accountable for them. And I have been very successful in doing so!

 

Q: People with intellectual disabilities only make up 1% of the general population, but 4% of those in jail. How do you explain the fact that people with intellectual disabilities are more likely to get in trouble with the law, and what challenges can they confront in the legal system in general?

JD: People with intellectual disabilities are at a disadvantage in the criminal justice system because sometimes they do not comprehend that their conduct violates the law. Also, because they may tend to think differently, they sometimes do not conform to “societal norms,” including respecting boundaries. They can also be more suggestible, which leads to them being victims of unscrupulous individuals who use those with intellectual disabilities as accomplices or even have them commit the crime for them.

Once someone is in the legal system, they confront a myriad of challenges. They tend to not understand the proceedings, or don’t understand that what they did was wrong. This can lead to them being found incompetent to stand trial and being placed in a state hospital which may not be at all helpful to them. Defense attorneys and prosecutors need appropriate training to know the options available to people with intellectual disabilities. For example, in certain cases, the law allows people to be diverted out of the criminal justice system so they can receive treatment instead of punishment. Ideally, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges would work together to seek justice for intellectually disabled defendants. The defense needs to provide to prosecutors the necessary information and ideally documentation to demonstrate to the prosecution that the defendant is intellectually disabled.

On the prosecution side, knowing, and having a good working relationship with Alta Regional or Far Northern Regional is key to resolving these cases and doing justice so that the intellectually disabled defendant does not end up in the same position down the road.

 

Q: Give examples of the types of accommodations that you would have to provide for a defendant or victim with a disability during criminal proceedings? Give examples related to defendant or victim who are blind, deaf, or who have a developmental, physical, or mental health disability.

JD: We would comply with the ADA in making accommodations for any defendant, victim, or witness with a disability during criminal proceedings. For example, assistive hearing devices are/will be available for those who are hearing impaired. For those who are deaf, a sign interpreter will be provided. Anyone who is blind would be assisted in going in and out of the courtroom, etc. If the person is a victim or a witness, they would be accompanied by a victim/witness advocate in addition to any measures they normally use, such as a cane or a guide dog. If the person is a defendant, I would work with the court and the defense to ensure the same considerations. (Please note that I worked and trained regularly with the Paralympic Judo Team which was made up of blind and legally blind athletes, so I am used to working with those who are blind or sight impaired).

For a defendant with a mental health disability, if they are receiving services from Alta Regional or Far Northern, then generally there is a representative there with them. As a witness or a victim, there would often times be a representative from any supporting agencies (Alta, etc.) as well as the victim/witness advocate.

In addition, child witnesses/victims sometimes need additional special accommodations. I intend to implement a comfort dog program to make the courtroom experience less intimidating for these victims/witnesses.

I believe in assisting those with physical and mental disabilities, as well as elders. Regardless of whether the person is a defendant, a victim or a witness, I will work with the court, the defense bar, any supporting agencies, the public guardian, and victim/witness to ensure that proper accommodations are provided, and that they are treated with the respect and dignity that we all deserve.