Doctors and DUIs – How a DUI Can Affect Your California Medical License
A DUI conviction or arrest can result in serious consequences for your medical license in California. Being arrested for DUI in a doctor’s personal life may be considered “substantially related” to the practice of medicine and their ability to perform medical services, even if no patient or medical treatment was involved. Because of this, a physician may be subject to disciplinary action by the California medical board.
Will a DUI Affect My Professional or Medical License?
Yes, a DUI conviction can affect your professional license, even if it is your first offense. Even if a district attorney does not end up reporting the incident to the medical board, you may be required to do so. If you do not, you may suffer even worse consequences to your ability to practice medicine.
How a DUI Can Affect Your Medical License in California
The California Business and Professions Code states that “the conviction of any offense substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a physician constitutes unprofessional conduct.” In addition, a prosecuting entity is required to notify the California Division of Medical Quality of any pending criminal cases against a holder of a medical license once they become informed that that person is a California physician.
Upon receiving this information, the medical board of California can investigate the criminal charge and determine if it will bring disciplinary action and if the DUI conviction is “an offense substantially related” to the individual’s practice of medicine.
DUI and Medical Board Licenses
You may wonder what the board will do once it receives notice of your DUI. Unfortunately, there is not a “one size fits all” answer to this question. Rather, it is a highly individualized process, and the actions of your medical board will depend on your case’s circumstances. The medical board will consider the following questions and aggravating factors:
- Does the doctor have any prior DUI convictions?
- If so, how long has passed since the prior DUI?
- What was the doctor’s blood alcohol level?
- Was anyone harmed?
- Was there any property damage?
- Is the doctor exhibiting remorse and taking actions such as seeking alcohol abuse treatment and enrolling in DUI school?
- Are there any prior disciplinary actions against the doctor?
- Is the doctor complying with the terms of their sentence and probation?
While this is not an exhaustive list of what the medical board may consider in your case, it hits the significant points of concern they will have. Even if you win at trial or your DUI is reduced to a less serious offense in court, the board may still discipline you as they follow their own process.
Can Your Medical License Survive a Drunk Driving Conviction?
Yes, your license can survive the consequences of driving under the influence – but you need to handle this very carefully. You should have experienced counsel on your side for both the criminal and medical board proceedings. You should not undertake either matter on your own.
To prevail and protect your medical license, you will have to convince the medical board of California that:
- That this was a one-time incident and not part of a pattern of regular behavior on your part;
- That you do not have an alcohol or substance abuse problem; and
- That your sentence or conviction will not interfere with your ability to practice medicine.
You may have to submit to drug or alcohol testing by a specialist in addition to other measures that show the board you do not have an ongoing problem. You should also expect to have to explain the situation that led to you being involved in a DUI. These facts need to be carefully presented to the board.
What Happens to Your Medical License After a California DUI?
If the medical board disciplines you, here are a few things that may happen, all of which may affect your medical license:
- There may be an administrative investigation and interview.
- An administrative law judge of the Medical Quality Hearing Panel may issue an Interim Suspension Order. This allows the medical board to prevent a doctor from practicing until a final outcome is reached in its disciplinary action. Interim orders are usually only issued where there is a belief the medical professional has engaged, is going to violate the Medical Practice Act, or is unable to practice safely due to their mental or physical condition.
- The board may file a citationagainst a physician. A citation is a sanction that usually includes a fine.
- The board may file an accusation against a physician. An accusation lists charges against the physician and is the beginning of an official process to try to suspend or revoke one’s medical license.
- The board may issue an investigative subpoena asking a physician to appear for an interview or asking for information or documents.
- The board may issue a Public Letter of Reprimand. After this, a physician may be on probation and required to take specialized training or classes related to their DUI.
- The board may decide to take no action and close its file.
Other outcomes are also possible. Whatever situation you are facing, it is best to contact an attorney immediately.
As a Doctor, Do I Self-Report a DUI to the Licensing Board?
The California Business and Professions Code requires physicians to report:
- If they are charged with a felony; and
- If they are convicted, whether by pleading guilty or no contest or being found guilty to any felony or misdemeanor.
A physician must make this report within 30 days of the date they are charged or convicted. If they do not, they may also face a fine of $5,000 in addition to other actions that the board may take against a California physician’s license.
A doctor should follow the law but also report the incident very carefully, with the counsel of an experienced attorney. Not doing so will likely result in more discipline than would otherwise occur.
DUI and Medical Board License Defenses and Strategies
Multiple strategies may be available to help you deal with your DUI case and avoid harm to your medical license. When a medical or professional license is involved, your strategy must take additional considerations into account.
It is generally best to seek a dismissal or reduction of charges where any charges or allegations could be found to be related to the practice of medicine.
This may require you to present an argument that there was no probable cause for your DUI arrest, that an illegal search or seizure occurred, or that the prosecution has not proven all elements of the crime you are being charged with.
If you already have a DUI conviction, it may be possible to go to criminal court to seek expungement of your record. This means your conviction is cleared from the public record and no longer appears as a conviction. This is generally only possible when a person has a DUI misdemeanor conviction. However, this does not obviate you of your obligation to report it to the medical board. However, an expungement may significantly help how the board views your case.
If you have a single felony DUI conviction, you may be able to request for it to be reduced to a misdemeanor. A court is more likely to consider this request if you have completed the totality of your sentence requirements, community service, paid all fines and fees, and have had no further violations. While this cannot prevent a board investigation, it can definitely help you present a more favorable picture and response to the board.
A physician should hire a criminal defense attorney that is not only familiar with DUI law but is also well versed in California professional license issues. Doctors often have complicated defense needs in these situations that must be planned carefully to get a favorable outcome in the criminal case and any subsequent board proceedings.
Depending on the Facts of the Case, a DUI May Impact Your Medical License
How the medical board of California handles a DUI varies on a case-by-case basis. Their proceedings are intentionally vague because they wish to have discretion in handling each situation. However, the board has published some commentary on its views of how a criminal conviction might affect a physician’s license to practice medicine.
It has emphasized that its position cannot be black or white because it evaluates every case individually. Because of this, it has declined to officially comment on what conduct will or will not lead to disciplinary actions. However, it does make clear that the business and professions code does not differentiate between felonies or misdemeanors, which does not control how it handles disciplinary actions.
A DUI Does Not Automatically Mean License Revocation
A DUI does not always mean there will be a license revocation. If you are concerned about this possibility or need legal advice, you should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. In some situations, you may have less than 30 days to take action to protect your professional livelihood. Many law offices offer a free consultation, so it is best not to delay speaking with an attorney.
Talk To A DUI Defense Attorney
You may have defenses to felony charges or may be able to get them reduced to a misdemeanor or “wet reckless” charges. An experienced attorney can evaluate your case and discuss your options with you. A lawyer serving DUI clients will often offer a free no obligation consultation and everything discussed is protected by the attorney client relationship.
Schedule a free consultation with one of our expert California DUI attorneys here.
Interested in this topic or want to learn more about DUIs in California? Check out our recent article about whether or not a DUI charge could lead to termination of employment, and other related articles on our blog, which is updated regularly!