Criminal Defense for Doctors and Other Medical Professionals in California
When a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional is accused of a crime, the ramifications can be far-reaching and complicated, both for the defendant and the attorneys defending them.
Physicians and healthcare professionals must be held to the same standards of justice as any other citizen. Still, certain aspects of their profession, including privacy laws and patient confidentiality, must also be considered when defending them in criminal court.
Additionally, certain criminal convictions can negatively impact a healthcare professional's career because their license to practice could be suspended or revoked.
The Medical Board of California (MBC) considers misconduct allegations against physicians a serious matter. Therefore, they monitor physicians, surgeons and their assistants, psychiatrists, podiatrists, and other health care professionals.
They have a Complaint and Enforcement Unit that will investigate any reported administrative violations and criminal conduct. You will need an experienced medical license defense lawyer to protect your license and rights.
The Osteopathic Medical Board of California is responsible for monitoring the practice of licensed osteopathic physicians and surgeons. They also have their enforcement unit to investigate any reported violations.
An investigation or disciplinary action by the Medical Board of California (MBC) could threaten a doctor and ruin their career. In any inquiry, a qualified medical license defense attorney can help a physician by responding to an investigation from the MBC.
With effective defense strategies, the complaint unit might close the investigation without a formal accusation. Let's take a closer look at the particular circumstances and issues that must be addressed when a medical community member is charged with a crime.
Privacy Laws & Patient Confidentiality
In California, all healthcare providers are subject to California's Confidentiality of Medical Information Act (CMIA) and the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) restrictions.
These laws dictate how they can access, use, and share personal health information to ensure that patient's health information remains secure. However, these rules can also pose significant challenges when defending a doctor or nurse accused of a crime.
While both CMIA and HIPAA Privacy Rules make exceptions for law enforcement investigations, the same may not always be true if patient information could assist defense attorneys in making a case for their clients. It may require a court order or other special circumstances to make this information available.
Criminal Convictions and Medical Licensure
Unlike other professions where criminal convictions may not immediately impact someone's ability to practice their trade, being convicted of a crime as a doctor or nurse can result in serious consequences from licensing boards and other professional organizations.
Certain criminal convictions may disqualify a medical professional from holding a professional license. In contrast, others may trigger a license investigation resulting in adverse actions from the state board that issued their license.
This could include suspension or revocation of licenses or even temporary sanctions against practicing medicine until the case is resolved.
Common criminal convictions that could endanger a healthcare professional's license include, but are not limited to:
- Insurance fraud. Suppose a physician is convicted of behaviors such as billing for services that were not provided or “upcoding” procedures for higher insurance payouts. In that case, they are likely to face licensing action.
- Drug-related crimes. Suppose a healthcare practitioner is accused of stealing or misusing prescription medications, over-prescribing opiate drugs, or trafficking controlled prescription substances. In that case, they could face criminal penalties and serious consequences from their professional board.
- DUI. Alcohol and drug abuse among medical professionals can be grounds for board disciplinary action because such activities can cloud their judgment when treating patients. A DUI conviction strongly suggests that the doctor/nurse cannot control these behaviors.
- Sex crimes. Having a romantic/sexual relationship with a patient is a serious ethical breach that can cost someone their license. Still, if the sexual misconduct is criminal (i.e., forcing the medical professional to register as a sex offender), they'll be disqualified from holding a license.
- Other serious or violent crimes. Being convicted of almost any felony offense, especially violent offenses, can jeopardize one's license.
Loss of Medical License
Ironically, a physician, nurse, or other licensed healthcare professional may face the possible loss of their license even if their criminal charges don't result in a conviction.
The Medical Board of California, the California Board of Registered Nursing, and other licensing boards typically decide to impose discipline using the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is less stringent than proving guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Suppose you're a doctor or other medical professional charged with a crime, and the charge suggests to the board that you've violated your license.
In that case, they can conduct their investigation utterly independent of any criminal investigations. Then, they can summon you to a separate hearing in front of an administrative law judge to determine whether or not your license should be suspended or revoked.
A criminal conviction meets the “clear and convincing evidence” criteria, but you don't have to be found guilty of a crime for the board to take adverse action on your license.
Defense for Medical Professionals Charged with a Crime
Physicians must report to the Medical Board Central Complaint Unit when charged with a felony offense or if convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense.
This report must be made within 30 days of bringing the indictment, information, or conviction.
A Board investigator will follow up with the doctor in writing, requesting additional information or an interview. In certain circumstances, peer review reports must be disclosed to the Board.
California Business and Professions Code 802.1 says, “(a)(1) A physician and surgeon, osteopathic physician and surgeon, a doctor of podiatric medicine, and a physician assistant shall report either of the following to the entity that issued their license: (A) The bringing of an indictment or information charging a felony against the licensee. (B) The conviction of the licensee, including any verdict of guilty, or plea of guilty or no contest, of any felony or misdemeanor.”
Subsection (b) says that failure to make a report required by this section is a public offense that is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.
If you're a medical professional facing criminal charges in California, you could face significant fines and jail time, and your license and career may also be at stake.
Your best hope of defending against the charges is to hire a California criminal defense attorney with specific experience defending doctors, nurses, and others—someone who understands the nuances, complexities, and repercussions involved in such cases.
You can contact our law firm for a case review by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.