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Criminal Charges and Your Professional License

If you hold any professional license issued and regulated by a California state licensing agency, a criminal conviction could affect your license status. If you hold such a license and you are charged with a crime, it is vital that you consult with a criminal defense attorney who is also knowledgeable on professional licensing laws.

A significant portion of license board disciplinary actions concern criminal charges and convictions. With the near instantaneous electronic reporting systems, licensing boards learn not only of their licensees’ convictions, but also when charges are filed. Even the filing of criminal charges against a licensee may trigger a temporary license disciplinary action, usually in the form of a license interim suspension order. For example, if a medical professional is charged with sexually abusing patients or a nurse is charged with stealing and reselling narcotics from hospital stock, the medical professional may be served by the licensing board with motion for an administrative law judge to issue the interim suspension order pending the outcome of the criminal matter. Such a motion may be challenged but the licensee must act quick if he or she wishes to continue practicing while the criminal case is pending. An experienced license defense attorney, who also understand criminal defense, will investigate the licensing board’s accusation and collect data and evidence to argue against any interim order.

When a defendant hires a defense attorney, most criminal defense lawyers will be focused on getting the best outcome for their client in the criminal matter. While criminal defense lawyers work hard to defend their clients, many defense lawyers are simply not that knowledgeable about the interplay between a criminal conviction and the effect the conviction can have on a professional license. In my Orange County criminal and professional license defense practice, I have had clients for whom their previous defense attorney achieved a very good outcome on their case only to find that the outcome had a serious impact on their license. Sometimes a plea bargain, which might be desired on the criminal end, will have serious repercussions on the defendant’s professional license.

For example, a first-time misdemeanor DUI or drug conviction can, and often will, result in a license board disciplinary action. For a defendant who does not hold a professional license, the best outcome in such a case is to get the defendant into a diversion program and a diligent defense attorney will work toward that outcome. However, if the defendant also holds a professional license, diversion may not be the best outcome. Even if the charge is dismissed under a diversion order, many licensing boards, which operate under administrative law, will treat the diversion disposition as if the licensee committed the crime. It may be better in such a case to argue for a reduction in the charge, if possible, to an offense that will have little to no effect on the client’s professional license.

While it is always a good idea to hire a defense attorney experienced in both criminal and professional license defense, sometimes a licensee will learn that too late. All is not lost. There are defenses and discipline relief options available to a licensee in a board action.

A conviction, whether the result of a jury finding of guilty or the result of a guilty plea, and whether it is in California or any other state is evaluated by professional licensing boards on a case-by-case basis. The administrative law that governs the procedure does not distinguish between a misdemeanor and a felony conviction. Depending on the particular board and that board’s rules, discipline can be meted out even on minor convictions. The standard for most boards is whether the offense is “substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the licensee.” Practically speaking, this term of art is often used as a catch-all, but if the board cannot establish that the offense for which the licensee was convicted renders the licensee unfit to perform his or her duties in a manner that protects public safety, the discipline can often be successfully challenged.

Two examples:

  1. A dentist got into a brawl at a pub and was convicted on an assault charge. While the offense does not imply the dentist will assault a patient, the Dental Board of California will consider this an offense of abusive conduct that implicates the dentist’s unfitness for the profession of dentistry. A competent professional license defense attorney will present character and mitigating evidence that may get the board accusation dismissed, or more likely, convince the board to order the least restrictive discipline, such as probation with perhaps anger management classes. (If the dentist was wise enough to hire a lawyer who specializes in criminal AND professional license defense, the lawyer would have sought to mitigate the license consequences prior to the conviction.)
  2. A nurse is convicted on petty theft after shoplifting an outfit from a department store. The California Board of Registered Nurses seeks to discipline the nurse on the grounds that the offense demonstrates the nurse’s dishonesty. Such discipline may be challenged on the grounds that the conviction has no bearing on the nurse’s ability and fitness to perform nursing in a manner consistent with public safety. The goal here will be to have the board accusation against the nurse dismissed.

Most boards have disciplinary guidelines with a recommended range of penalties for particular offenses. While there is no legal distinction between a misdemeanor and felony conviction, the discipline is almost always more severe for felony convictions. An essential component of the disciplinary actions is the administrative board hearing, but such a hearing is not held unless requested and the time for this request is limited. If you have been notified of a licensing board accusation filed against you, you should not hesitate to contact legal counsel. Before the board hearing, the work of putting together evidence and preparing testimony that challenges the board’s action is crucial. An experienced professional license defense attorney understands how the boards operate, the kind of mitigation they are looking for, and what disciplinary options are available.

Have you been charged or convicted of a criminal offense and face professional license discipline? Contact Professional License Defense Attorney William Weinberg for Immediate Help.

A criminal conviction can have serious implications for your professional license. Don’t risk your hard-earned education and career; you can successfully fight a board action and oftentimes suffer less discipline than expected. Orange County attorney William Weinberg is a skilled criminal defense and professional license defense attorney. As a California licensed professional himself, he understands how important it is to protect your professional license and will work hard to preserve your career. You may reach Mr. Weinberg at his Irvine office at (949) 474-8008 or by email at bill@williamweinberg.com. He offers a complimentary consultation regarding your criminal and/or professional license matter.

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