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Benson, Muoio & Danielsen Bill to Create Tougher Penalty for Assaulting Seniors, People with Disabilities Clears Committee

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Elizabeth Muoio and Joseph Danielsen to increase the penalty for the assault of an individual who is elderly or who has a disability was advanced recently by an Assembly committee.

“It is completely cowardly and contemptible to target someone who may not have the capacity for self-defense,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Anyone who attacks a senior or an individual with a disability should face serious consequences.”

The sponsors cited the assault of a 91-year-old woman at her Ewing home in March and the carjacking of a 78-year-old woman at the Lawrence Shopping Center in April as motives for the bill. The 2006 assault of Trenton resident Joey Damiano, a man with an intellectual disability who was left blind in one eye after being attacked while walking down the street, also influenced the legislation.

“A deliberate attack on a vulnerable individual clearly has a greater likelihood of causing serious harm and should be treated as such by the law,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This legislation is about taking a stand on behalf of people who, unfortunately, are most susceptible to harm.”

“Feckless bullies who make victims out of innocent seniors and people with disabilities have to be held accountable for their actions,” said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “Increasing the penalty for these kinds of attacks will help ensure that the punishment fits the crime.”

Under the bill (A-3615), a person who causes bodily injury to someone who is 60 years of age or older or someone with a disability would be guilty of a crime of the third degree and would face a minimum sentence of three years’ imprisonment without parole. Should the victim suffer significant bodily injury, the assault would be a considered a crime of the second degree, which carries a penalty of five to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Current law considers the offenses outlined in the bill simple assault, which is categorized as a disorderly persons offense. A disorderly persons offense may carry a sentence of up to six months in a county jail.

The measure was advanced on Thursday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, of which Benson is chair and Danielsen is vice-chair.