If you practice nursing, you know from experience how hard it is to acquire a professional license. Studying various courses, passing examinations, and keeping pace with advancing education requirements is tiring. Yet, a nursing license is mandatory if you wish to be a nurse in California.
Unfortunately, your license could be jeopardized if accused or found guilty of felony offenses. The California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) may take disciplinary action on any registered nurse convicted of a felony offense. Consequently, you want to hire a qualified nursing license defense counsel who can assist you in avoiding the possible consequences of a criminal charge or conviction, such as the suspension of your license.
BRN Regulates California Nurses
The BRN governs registered nurses in California. This is a state governmental body within the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The board comprises nine members and is in charge of protecting the members of the public in nursing-related matters. Per the Nursing Practice Act, the Board of Registered Nursing:
- Regulates nurse practice and education
- Issues RN (registered nurse) licenses to registered nurses
- Imposes disciplinary action for felony misconduct and criminal convictions
This board also operates a confidential and voluntary diversion program for registered nurses battling with:
- Mental health problems
- Dependency on regulated substances
- Substance abuse
Completing the program necessitates BRN monitoring for three years on average.
When The BRN Can Impose a Disciplinary Action Against a Nurse
Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations and The Nurse Practice Act under the California Business and Professions Code empower the BRN to discipline any licensed nurse for any unprofessional conduct, including if they are found guilty of particular felony crimes. These offenses include felonies significantly related to a registered nurse's duties, functions, and qualifications. Examples of felony violations include:
- Felony corporal injury to a spouse and felony child abuse
- Felony assault with a deadly weapon
- Grand theft
- Violent crimes, such as some acts of extortion
- Felony crimes involving moral turpitude embezzlement
- Obtaining a license through fraud
- Felony drug-related offenses, like the sale of a controlled substance
- Practicing medicine with no valid license
- Crimes involving mistakes or misrepresentation, such as felony identity theft
- Crimes involving deceit or fraud, like felony check fraud
Disciplinary action could include:
- Probation— if the Board places your license on probation, you can continue practicing nursing only under given conditions. The stipulated terms and conditions run for some time, and should you violate any, you risk the Board suspending or revoking your license. If you successfully serve your probation term, the board will allow you to practice nursing again fully.
- Public reprimand— the BRN can reprimand you following your criminal conviction. In that case, a public reprimand letter is placed on the Board's website connected with your registered nurse license number.
- License revocation or suspension— the Board could revoke or suspend your license, meaning you will not be able to use it. The Board will cancel and permanently prohibit you from using the nursing title.
Most nurses charged with felony offenses seek legal advice and representation from a criminal lawyer. Seeking a lawyer's help is ideal because self-representation may not work as far as severe felony charges are concerned. However, based on the type of attorney you hire, your nursing career could be severely affected, particularly if you are convicted.
This is because apart from automatic nursing license suspension, if found guilty of a felonious act, you will be included on the:
- HHS (Health & Human Services) OIG (Federal Office of Inspector General) List of Excluded Entities/Individuals.
- The state’s Medi-Cal Program's Ineligible and Suspended Provider List.
Prevalent Felonies for Nurses
As a nurse, you can be accused of various felony violations, including reckless driving, felony DUI, Diverting drugs, drugs/narcotics possession for sale, insurance fraud, drug sales, forgery, grand theft, and embezzlement.
These are severe offenses. Therefore, you need to consult a skilled and qualified defense lawyer immediately after arrest to answer your concerns and questions and guide you toward solving your specific case. Criminal violations require an in-depth understanding of state laws.
It can be challenging to navigate the state’s justice system if you do not understand how statutes are applied and the entire legal process. You could be disadvantaged if you resort to solving your legal problems alone. But equally essential is retaining a criminal attorney who also comprehends licensing laws.
A skilled lawyer who can fight for you in the criminal court system and knows how to protect your professional license before the board and ensure you are not included on the Medi-Cal provider exclusion or OIG list is the proper lawyer for your case.
What If You Are Accused of a Felony Before Acquiring Your Professional License?
The BRN can deny a nursing license to applicants found guilty of a felony significantly linked to a nurse's duties, functions, or qualifications within the past seven years from their license application date. Note that this will happen if only the conviction is significantly nursing-related.
Additionally, these criminal convictions may prevent any aspiring nurse from acquiring a license regardless of how far back their case occurred:
- A severe felony as described under PC 1192.7. These felonies include grand theft, murder, rape, mayhem, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, and forced sodomy.
- A sex crime that necessitates Tier 3 or Tier 2 registration as a sex offender
Criminal convictions, in this case, include those secured through:
- Nolo contendere pleas
- Guilty verdicts after a jury trial and guilty pleas
- Grants of probation
- Convictions that can later be expunged or deferred under PC 1203.4 and 1000 PC drug diversion
You Have the Right to an Administrative Hearing
Once you are found guilty of a felony offense, the Board of Registered Nursing will investigate the matter. You may settle your case per an agreement if it finds sufficient evidence warranting disciplinary action. If there is no settlement, you are entitled to an administrative hearing before the Board takes disciplinary action.
This hearing occurs at the OAH (Office of Administrative Hearings) and resembles a civil or criminal court trial. Essentially, it is a mini-trial presided over by an ALJ (administrative law judge). An attorney from the state's Office of the Attorney General represents the Board of Registered Nursing. You are entitled to retain a defense lawyer at your own expense.
At the proceedings, the attorney representing the Board submits:
- Evidence of your conviction
- Reasons why the ALJ should order discipline against you
You can present evidence on your behalf, including evidence of your criminal history and rehabilitation. Your attorney can also subpoena and cross-examine eyewitnesses.
The ALJ may recommend disciplinary action if the BRN can prove that you deserve discipline by clear, convincing evidence. This is a lower burden of evidence than the "by any reasonable doubt" standard used in criminal court trials.
On the other hand, the judge also considers several factors in your favor, like the nature of the conviction, the harm caused to the public, and any prior disciplinary or criminal history.
Even though the judge sees a criminal conviction as conclusive evidence that you have engaged in unprofessional conduct, they will consider your explanation of the circumstances that led to the conviction. They will also consider any mitigating factors and evidence of rehabilitation. Sometimes you can mitigate possible disciplinary action by starting therapy or enrolling in a drug abuse program.
The judge issues a proposed written decision within thirty days of the administrative proceedings. The decision states the judge's recommendations regarding disciplinary action. The BRN can either agree to the ALJ's decision, reject it, or modify it.
If you lose your hearing, you can appeal with the Superior Court. You must file your appeal within thirty days of the Board's ultimate decision to impose disciplinary action.
If the BRN revoked or suspended your license and you lost your appeal, you can try petitioning the Board to reinstate the license.
Placement On The Medi-Cal Provider Exclusion and OIG Lists
Placement on the Medi-Cal Provider Exclusion, or OIG Lists, precludes you from practicing nursing in facilities that receive Medi-Cal or Medicare funding. Any healthcare facility that receives Medical Medi-Cal and Medicare funds is forbidden from employing persons appearing on the ineligible provider lists and faces fines and sanctions if it does. Therefore, if you appear on the lists, you will be excluded from practicing nursing— practically everywhere, including doing any administrative (non-clinical) and clinical role.
The state’s Medi-Cal laws— WIC 14123 and 14043.6, provide that the DHCS (Department of Health Care Services) must suspend Medi-Cal health care service providers from participating in the Medi-Cal program when the entity or individual has:
- Breached a contract with the Department explicitly specifying inclusion on this list as a consequence of the breach
- Been suspended from the federal Medicaid or Medicare program for any given reason
- Surrendered or lost a certificate, license, or any other authorization to provide medical care
- Been found guilty of any felony involving abuse of any patient or the Medi-Cal program or fraud, or otherwise significantly connected to the duties, functions, or qualifications of a service provider
If you have violated the Nursing Practice Act by any of these conduct, your license will automatically be suspended. Additionally, you will not have the right to an administrative hearing per the state’s Administrative Procedures Act.
You may do so if you wish to appeal your inclusion on the Medi-Cal exclusion and OIG lists. Although to be removed from the Medi-Cal listing, you should first be removed from the OIG listing. This lengthy and complex process usually requires you to petition the BRN to reinstate your license.
Duty to Report
As a nurse, you must report any felony criminal conviction or discipline to the BRN within thirty days. You must report felony DUI, felony drug-related convictions, felony convictions substantially connected to professional activities or duties, felony convictions constituting unprofessional actions, and court-related orders directing you to attend an outpatient or in-patient drug abuse program.
You must also report these convictions to the BRN when applying for a nursing license:
- Dishonorable discharge or military convictions
- Any felony conviction that happened before you turned eighteen years
- All felony convictions that led to a nolo contendere plea
- Any felony conviction that has been expunged (that is, a conviction that has been deleted or stricken from official records)
- Any traffic ticket that led to a fine of more than five hundred dollars
You may face severe disciplinary action if you fail to report these situations or convictions and the BRN discovers your omission. Criminal courts usually notify state boards when convictions affect licensed professionals. Also, professionals' info is cross-indexed with directories for particular professionals so that this connection and notification can be made. Nurses must also be fingerprinted at the BRN so the Board can continue being informed if the professional is found guilty of an offense after initially being licensed.
Reporting a conviction or discipline is critical because it can be a preemptive action to show you have been in rehab before and without the Board intervening. Technically, the reporting requirements comprise four parts: a description of the events and circumstances resulting in the conviction/arrest, court documents, arrest documents, and evidence of rehab or any related mitigating evidence the Board should consider.
Note that you only have to report convictions and discipline, not arrests. But even though you do not have to report arrests, you should retain a nursing license defense attorney experienced in dealing with the BRN immediately after arrest. A lawyer will know what evidence is needed to prove rehab from the crime. The earlier your lawyer controls the damage, the better it will be for you. This is particularly true if you are innocent of the charges against you because the earlier you seek counsel, the earlier given defense measures can and must be taken.
Timing of Disciplinary Action
The BRN cannot officially take disciplinary action against you before your criminal case is concluded. This implies that the Board must wait until the period to file an appeal has ended to impose disciplinary action. If you had appealed your case, the Board could take disciplinary action once the judgment is affirmed on appeal. Another relevant period for the Board to take disciplinary action is after an order granting probation prevents the imposition of the criminal sentence.
Essentially, this implies the process usually takes a long period before there is a resolution by the BRN after facing a criminal accusation. That is, from when you are arrested and convicted to when the timeframe for filing an appeal has elapsed. For most nurses, this waiting period is the most challenging part of their ordeal, including jail term.
Hiring a lawyer earlier in the process relieves much of the worry and stress you may feel when accused of a crime and have to face the BRN. Once hired, an experienced lawyer will have you sign a Letter of Representation simultaneously with the retainer contract. A skilled nursing license defense attorney will also prepare their retainer agreement to cover a specific period, commonly one, three, or five years based on the case, at no additional fee. Then when the BRN contacts you about your discipline or arrest, all you should do is call your lawyer.
When you call your lawyer, they will present the signed Letter of Representation to the BRN requesting any further communication to be directed to their office. After receiving the Letter of Representation, it is unlawful for the Board to contact you. Therefore, having a skilled, aggressive attorney prevents the Board from harassing you and protects you against self-incrimination that the Board could use to revoke or suspend your license at the hearing.
Other Grounds for Disciplinary Action
Apart from facing disciplinary action for having criminal convictions, the BRN can also discipline you if you engage in the following unprofessional conduct:
- Being careless concerning blood-borne diseases
- Being disciplined by a board in another state
- Gross negligence or incompetence
- Using drugs unlawfully or in a manner that threatens the public
- Convictions of felonies substantially related to a nurse's duties, functions, and qualifications
Find an Experienced Nursing License Defense Attorney Near Me
Only a few things can be more heartbreaking than the possibility of only one mistake denying you or taking away the nursing career you worked tirelessly to achieve. Securing your registered nurse license can be more challenging when convicted of a felony related to a nurse's duties, qualifications, and functions. If you already have a license, the BRN can ask you to defend it, and if it is not content with your defense, suspend or revoke the license.
If the BRN has denied your nursing license application or asked you to defend your license due to a felony criminal conviction, do not do it without a lawyer's help. Do not take any action by the Board lightly. Also, do not voluntarily surrender your license without legal representation. Protect yourself by contacting a skilled, aggressive, confidential nursing license defense lawyer for legal advice and representation. At The Legal Guardian, we have helped hundreds of nurses in Long Beach, CA, navigate the effects of a criminal charge or conviction on their nursing license, and we can do the same for you. Call us at 866-448-6811 for a consultation and case review.