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Unauthorized Practice of Medicine

Practicing Medicine Without a License in California – BPC 2052

The state of California has stringent standards as to who is allowed to practice medicine in the state—and serious penalties for those who violate the rules.

According to California Business & Professions Code 2052 BPC, it is a crime for anyone to practice medicine in the state—or indeed, even to own and operate a healthcare facility staffed by physicians—without holding a valid California medical license. It's also illegal to advertise oneself as practicing any system of treating illness or affliction.

Practicing Medicine Without a License California – BPC 2052
BPC 2052 is the statute that makes it a crime in California to practice medicine without a license.

To prove someone guilty of engaging in the unauthorized practice of medicine, the prosecutor must prove some aspects of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, it must be shown that the defendant practiced, attempted to practice, or advertised or held themselves out as a system of treating the sick or afflicted in California.

Another potential factor in the prosecution of BPC 2052 cases is that the defendant diagnosed, treated, operated on, or prescribed for any ailment, deformity, disease, disorder, injury, or other physical or mental condition of any person, without having a valid license.

Finally, it must be proven the defendant was not authorized to perform the act under their certificate. In other words, anyone who owns or operates a medical practice that is not a licensed practitioner could be facing criminal prosecution under Business and Professions Code Section 2052 BPC, even if they never treated patients.

If you are convicted of violating this law, you could face fines up to $10,000 and 3 years in prison. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, we will cover this topic below.

What Is the Unauthorized Practice of Medicine?

The unauthorized practice of medicine in California applies to any situation in which an unlicensed individual attempt to diagnose or treat any physical or mental ailment—or even advertises oneself as able to do so. Specifically, BPC 2052 criminalizes any/all of the following:

  • Practicing, attempting to practice, or advertising the practice of any technique or way of treating illness or ailments, including both conventional and unconventional treatments;
  • Diagnosing, treating, prescribing medication for physical ailments/blemishes or mental conditions of any kind;
  • Conspiring with or assisting others in the above practices.

The law against the unauthorized practice of medicine is comprehensive in the state, extending well beyond the simple act of posing as a doctor when you don't have a

Penalties for practicing medicine without a license
Practicing medicine without a license can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.

license. If you do not specifically hold a valid California medical license, you could be charged with this crime even if:

  • You're a duly licensed physician in another state or country, but not in California;
  • You own a medical clinic but never actually treat people yourself; or
  • No one you treat suffers harm as a result of your practice.

Put simply, practicing medicine without a license consists of someone unlicensed diagnosing or treating someone with any physical or mental condition.

The term “diagnosis” is described as using any method, device, or procedure to determine whether somebody suffers from a physical or mental disorder. The term “treatment” includes giving someone injections or prescribing medications.

Under the legal definition of unauthorized practice of medicine, there is no requirement that someone was injured or harmed by the person who was practicing medicine without a license.

This means that even though BPC 2052 unauthorized practice of medicine is a victimless crime, you could still be arrested, charged, and convicted.

What Are Some Examples?

  • Someone uses unconventional or homeopathic methods, e.g., hypnosis, acupuncture, herbal remedies to "treat" specific ailments. Even if they don't claim to be a doctor, they can still be criminally charged for unlawfully diagnosing and treating conditions;
  • A licensed physician emigrating from another country offers treatments to other immigrants from his homeland at a low cost because they can't afford healthcare. He's licensed, but not in California;
  • A licensed physician from another state treats a California resident via telemedicine. Again, not explicitly licensed in California;
  • An entrepreneur who is not a doctor buys a medical practice from a physician then hires that physician to run the practice. While only a licensed physician treats the patients, the practice's new owner violates BPC 2052 because he is not licensed.

What are the Punishments for Business & Professions Code 2052 BPC?

BPC 2052 practicing medicine without a license is a "wobbler" offense, meaning prosecutors may charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances, your criminal history, etc.

If you're convicted of a misdemeanor, you could face fines up to $1000, a year in county jail, and summary probation. Suppose you are convicted of a felony, the potential fine increases to $10,000, 16 months, two or three years in county jail, and formal probation.  

For either type of charge, the judge has the latitude to reduce sentences to summary probation (for misdemeanors) or formal probation (for felonies) as an alternative to jail/prison time.

What are the Similar Offenses?

  • Counterfeiting a Prescription Blank (Health & Safety Code 11162.5 HSC): creating a fake prescription blank and passing it off as authentic to obtain prescription medicines;
  • Prescribing a Controlled Substance without a Legitimate Purpose (Health & Safety Code 11153 HSC): knowingly prescribing for someone without a related diagnosis is a crime;
  • Prescribing a Controlled Substance without Treatment (Health & Safety Code 11154(a) HSC): knowingly writing a prescription for someone who is not considered your patient.

What Are the Best Defenses Against BPC 2052 Charges?

As noted above, to procure a conviction against you, prosecutors must effectively prove that:

  • You diagnosed or treated physical or mental ailments (or attempted to do so); OR
  • You advertised yourself to be a licensed physician; AND
  • You did not hold a valid California medical license at the time.

Thus, the most effective legal defenses against BPC 2052 will refute one of these claims discussed below.

You were licensed—or at least believed that you were. Either you would produce a valid medical license, or your attorney might argue that you were unaware that your license had been expired or otherwise rendered invalid.

Defenses for practicing medicine without a license
There are some common defenses against charges of practicing medicine without a license.

Your actions did not meet the criteria for the practice of medicine. For example, perhaps you are a licensed massage therapist. You rightfully claimed that your massages could provide pain relief—but you did not precisely diagnose anyone with pain, nor did you describe your massages as "treatments." Prosecutors might have a challenge convicting you because you never advertised as a doctor and didn't diagnose or treat anyone.

Perhaps you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested due to an angry former client who had bad motives. Maybe we could negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges or case dismissal, depending on the details of the case.

We might be able to convince the prosecutor to file formal criminal charges in the first place through prefiling negotiations.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a Los Angeles criminal defense law firm that serves people across Southern California. You can contact us for an initial case review at (310) 328-3776 or use our contact form.

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