Acquiring a professional license to practice in a particular field requires investing a lot of energy, time and money. Whether you studied to be a nurse, accountant, dentist, lawyer, pharmacist, etc., there is enormous value in having gone through school, passed the required exams and established your career. A common misconception that professional practitioners fail to realize is that being convicted of a crime, even when you are not on the job, can result in having your professional license suspended or revoked.
What Does Having A Professional License Mean?
Under the law, if you have earned a professional license it means that you are given permission to practice in your chosen field. Having a license does not mean you have an unrestricted right to use your license. A professional license is just like a driver’s license in that if you do not obey the rules of the road or abuse your driving privilege you can lose your permission to drive.
It is very important for professionals that use a license to work maintain a clean criminal record because losing a license can have immeasurable consequences both personally and financially.
Who Investigates Professional Misconduct?
Each profession has different agencies that will investigate matters of professional misconduct. In the medical field, doctors and physicians are held to very high professional and ethical standards and are monitored by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) under the New York State Department of Health (the equivalent of the Colorado Medical Board). In New York, if a physician is facing criminal charges the OPMC can launch a separate investigation and impose sanctions, such as suspending a physician’s license, if they find that the professional was involved in some misconduct.
The primary objective of the OPMC is to protect the public by investigating professional discipline and misconduct issues involving licensed practitioners. The OPMC will investigate all complaints of misconduct, conduct disciplinary hearings and monitor a physician who had his license restored after a suspension. The OPMC usually will launch investigations into criminal convictions and not for disorderly person’s offenses or violations. Many professional practitioners have been cited for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and have had negative effects on their license.
If I Have The Criminal Charges Dropped, Can I Still Lose My Professional License?
There are two different standards of proof to find someone guilty in criminal cases and cases involving professional misconduct. In criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This is the highest standard of proof or burden to meet within the legal system. Reasonable doubt usually means that a juror may have some doubt in their mind, but it cannot be one that would affect a reasonable person’s “moral certainty” that a person is guilty. The main reason that criminal trials carry such a high standard of proof is because a person’s complete freedom and liberty is at stake.
Investigations into professional misconduct carry a lower burden of proof than is needed in criminal courts. Agencies like the OPMC or the Board of Bar Examiners (for lawyers) need only to reach enough proof by a preponderance of the evidence standard. This simply means that given the facts in evidence one side is more convincing or more likely true than not to be true (over 50% true). This is a much lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
The reason that the burden of proof is lower is because unlike criminal court where your freedom is on the line, in professional discipline hearings you are losing only your permission to practice a specific profession. Since there is a lower burden of proof in professional misconduct hearings, you can still lose your professional license even though you had the criminal charges dismissed against you.
Should I Contact An Attorney?
It can be devastating to work your whole life in establishing a professional practice only to make one mistake that makes you lose your license to practice. In many cases simply being accused of some misconduct can result in license suspension. You need your license to legally practice in your chosen profession and earn your livelihood. If you have a professional license and are facing criminal charges, you need an experienced attorney to help keep your record clean and help you get your professional license restored.