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I am a Doctor with a DUI. What Should I Do?

January 19, 2011

The Medical Board of California is vested with the power to discipline physicians by revocation, suspension or restriction of the physician and surgeon’s medical certificate, as well as to impose various conditions and limitations on the practice of medicine. In its discretion, the Board may opt not to discipline, or to issue a public or private warning.

What convictions trigger discipline?

Criminal convictions that are “substantially related” to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a physician can trigger discipline, however, be aware that the definition of “substantially related” is broad. Felony convictions and indictments are reported to the Medical Board and thereby trigger the disciplinary process. In addition, substance-related convictions, whether felony or misdemeanor, can trigger discipline. DUIs trigger discipline, as do substance abuse and public intoxication convictions.

The Medical Board can discipline for personal use of a controlled substance and for DUIs.

The Board has the power to discipline members for drug-related felonies and misdemeanors. The Board’s disciplinary power includes the power to discipline members for prescribing or personal use of a controlled substance—or of alcoholic beverages—to the extent or in such a manner as to be dangerous or injurious to oneself, any other person, or to the public. The Board regards these actions as “unprofessional conduct.” DUI convictions and guilty pleas are regarded as conclusive evidence of “unprofessional conduct.”

Must I report a felony?

Doctors have an ongoing duty to report to the Board felony and misdemeanor convictions as well as felony indictments.

What equals conviction?

According to the Business and Professions Code, a plea of guilty or a verdict of guilty or a conviction following a plea of no lo contendere are all considered convictions, thereby giving the Board the right to take action.

At what point may the Board take disciplinary action?

The Board may take action against a member or applicant when the time for an appeal has elapsed, or the conviction has been affirmed on appeal, or if and order granting probation is made and the imposition of the sentence is suspended.

If you have been convicted or pleaded guilty, the board likely has received notice from the court but is waiting to take disciplinary action against you until the conviction rests. Boards generally look more favorably upon members who are forthcoming about their actions and attempt to cooperate with the disciplinary process—this system is different than the typical criminal defense system. Although of course you would not want to disclose prematurely in case you receive a favorable outcome in the courts and are then under no obligation to report.

What if I don’t report a conviction, guilty plea, or felony indictment?

Do report. The Board will be notified of your conviction, plea, or felony indictment. The Board looks unfavorably on doctors who do not self-report. It is a humbling experience, but in the long run it will be more in your favor than not reporting.

Am I doomed if I receive a conviction?

No. The Board reviews matters on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the nature of the act, harm or potential harm to the public, prior criminal and/or disciplinary history. The Board takes a conviction as conclusive evidence of unprofessional conduct, but that is not the end of the story because although you may not be able to dispute that the circumstances giving rise to the conviction occurred, the Board will likely be interested in your explanation and you’re your entire record. Furthermore, to the extent not inconsistent with public protection, the board strives to impose rehabilitative disciplinary actions.

At the same time, the board strives for consistency of discipline and instructs Administrative Law Judges hearing cases on behalf of the Board to impose the recommended discipline absent “mitigating or other appropriate circumstances such as evidence of responsibility and demonstrated willingness to undertake Board-ordered rehabilitation.” Therefore, it behooves you to self-report and, if the cause of the conviction is something that can be addressed through therapy or a substance abuse program, to enroll immediately.

Because the Board takes seriously criminal convictions and felony indictments, you would be well-advised to obtain an experienced criminal defense attorney who has your personal and professional interests at heart.

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