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Conviction of Caregiver for Elder Exploitation Affirmed

On February 11, 2022, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed Julia Bell’s conviction for elder exploitation. She was originally indicted 7 counts of elder exploitation; a jury found her guilt of four counts and not guilty of three counts. She appealed her conviction on the remaining accounts alleging, among other claims, that insufficient evidence supported the conviction and that her attorney provided ineffective assistance. Count 7, of which she was guilty, alleged Bell exploited the victim by taking the Target check made payable to the victim in the amount of $328.86, forging the victim’s signature on the back, and then depositing the check into Bell’s bank account.

Bell argued there was insufficient evidence to prove Count 7 and that the State failed to prove she forged the victim’s signature on the check. The Court of Appeals held otherwise. Quoting the Code, the Court explained that Bell’s attempt to define exploitation was too limited.

“[a]ny person who knowingly and willfully exploits a[n] . . . elder person . . . shall be guilty of a felony.” OCGA § 16-5-102(a). “‘Exploit’ means illegally or improperly using a disabled adult or elder person or that person’s resources through undue influence, coercion, harassment, duress, deception, false representation, false pretense, abuse of access, or other similar means for one’s own or another person’s profit or advantage.” OCGA § 16-5-100(6).

Initially, the Court held that Bell waived a fatal variance argument (proof didn’t match the indictment) by not raising it at trial. The Court them held that Bell’s deposit of the check into her own account, without withdrawing it to give to the victim, was sufficient to support the conviction.

To the extent her brief asserts that the evidence presented by the State fails to sufficiently prove elder exploitation, we find that the State met its burden under the standard set forth in Jackson, 443 U. S. at 319 (III) (B). A rational trier of fact could have concluded from the evidence  presented by the State that Bell knowingly and wilfully exploited the victimin connection with the Target check, particularly in light of the evidence that Bell deposited the check into her own bank account and did not make a cash withdrawal, even though she testified she gave cash to the victim.

Bell’s argument regarding insufficient counsel was also rejected and the conviction was affirmed.

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