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When Physicians Face Criminal Charges

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jul 11, 2024

As a physician, you are not just a healthcare professional but a pillar of trust and responsibility in the lives of others. Your role is not just a job but a vital part of the healthcare system, as people entrust their lives to you.

For physicians in California, the repercussions of criminal charges can be profound and far-reaching. It's about more than just the immediate consequences of conviction but also about the potential long-term impact on your medical licensing and professional future, a reality that must be considered.

When Physicians Face Criminal Charges
Physicians who have criminal charges might lose their professional medical license.

Accusations of a crime against a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional present unique and complex challenges for the defendant and the attorneys defending them.

Physicians and healthcare professionals must be held to the same standards of justice as any other person. Still, some aspects of their profession, including privacy laws and patient confidentiality, must also be considered when defending them in criminal court.

It's important to note that certain criminal convictions can severely impact a healthcare professional's career, potentially leading to the suspension or revocation of their license to practice.

The Medical Board of California (MBC) takes misconduct allegations against physicians and other healthcare professionals very seriously. It actively monitors their conduct and can take disciplinary action if necessary.

The MBC has a dedicated Complaint and Enforcement Unit that investigates reported administrative violations and criminal conduct. In such situations, having an experienced medical license defense attorney by your side is crucial to protect your license and rights. Any investigation or disciplinary action by the MBC can pose a serious threat to a doctor's career. 

With the right defense strategies, the complaint unit might close the investigation without a formal accusation. Let's look at the circumstances and issues that must be addressed when a medical community member is charged with a crime.

What Criminal Accusations Can Endanger a Physician's Career?

In theory, being charged with any crime can harm a medical doctor's career. However, the crimes most likely to endanger a career are "crimes of moral turpitude."

This term refers to acts that gravely violate societal norms and ethical standards. These crimes often involve dishonesty, fraud, or violence and can significantly tarnish a physician's professional standing.

The Medical Board of California takes these offenses seriously as they represent a violation of public trust and reflect on a doctor's moral character and fitness to practice medicine. Common examples of crimes of moral turpitude include:

  • White Collar Crimes: These include embezzlement, fraud, and tax evasion. For instance, a physician involved in healthcare fraud or falsifying patient records could be criminally charged.
  • 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.
  • Domestic Violence: Acts of violence against family members or intimate partners fall under this category. Such charges can lead to both criminal penalties and professional repercussions.
  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI): Operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs not only endangers public safety but also reflects poorly on a physician's judgment and conduct.  
  • Illegal Possession of Controlled Substances: Since doctors are entrusted with prescribing controlled substances as medicine, an accusation of misusing or illegal possession of these substances could be highly damaging.
  • Sexual Offenses: Crimes such as sexual assault or harassment are considered grave violations and can irreparably damage a physician's career.
  • Homicide: In extreme cases where a doctor is suspected of causing the death of a patient through negligence, the physician could be charged with negligent homicide or murder.

Unlike other professions where criminal convictions may not immediately impact their ability to practice their trade, being convicted of a crime as a doctor or nurse can result in severe consequences from licensing boards and other professional organizations.

What Are the Consequences of a Conviction?

Physicians charged with crimes face the same basic penalties upon conviction as anyone else. These include hefty fines, imprisonment, probation, and mandatory rehabilitation programs.

The severity of the punishment depends on the nature and gravity of the offense, as well as prior criminal history. However, these repercussions are just the tip of the iceberg for doctors practicing in California.

Physicians charged with crimes

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. Let's discuss further below.

Impact on Professional Licensing

Beyond criminal penalties, physicians must also contend with the potential impact on their professional licenses. The Medical Board of California has stringent regulations regarding licensed physicians' conduct, both on and off duty.

Certain criminal convictions, especially for felonies or crimes of moral turpitude, can quickly disqualify a physician from practicing in California. Even if you are charged but not convicted, the Board has the authority to discipline you if it believes your actions have violated regulations or called into question your fitness to practice.

Disciplinary sanctions may range from formal reprimands, fines, and probation (for minor offenses) to full license suspension or revocation (for major ones). However, even lesser penalties can do lasting damage to your professional reputation as a physician because these sanctions become a matter of public record.

Mandatory Reporting

Physicians are required to report any criminal convictions to the Medical Board, both when applying for licensure and if a conviction occurs while they hold a license.

Failure to do so can result in additional disciplinary actions. The Board conducts its investigations and hearings to determine appropriate sanctions, which could range from probation to outright license revocation.

Rehabilitation and Reinstatement

In some cases, physicians may be provided an opportunity for rehabilitation and eventual medical license reinstatement. This typically involves:

  • Compliance with Probation Terms: Adhering to specific conditions such as attending counseling sessions, undergoing drug testing, or completing community service.
  • Ongoing Monitoring: Regular reporting to the Medical Board and compliance checks to ensure adherence to probation terms.

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?

Considering that being convicted for a minor offense can have dramatic repercussions if you are a physician in California charged with a crime, your best strategy for minimizing the risk of conviction and other complications starts with hiring an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

A good attorney will understand the complexities of criminal and administrative law and their potential impact on your medical career. They can help you navigate the legal system, build a solid defense strategy, and advocate on your behalf to mitigate or dismiss charges. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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