Preserving Your Nursing License: Alternatives to Conviction, Nolo Contendere or Adjudication Withheld
As if being faced with the consequences of criminal charges wasn’t frightening enough, physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists and other health professionals have the added danger of having their licenses disciplined or revoked if they plead nolo contendere or guilty to a criminal charge
Whether you are applying for a new license to practice or have been practicing for years you are under an obligation to report “convictions” and “pleas” to the board that governs your profession. The normal definition of a “conviction” is not the same as the Department of Health (DOH) and the various professional boards use.
Pursuant to Section 456.072, Florida Statutes, licensed healthcare providers can be disciplined for all of the following dispositions of a criminal case:
– Actual conviction (by a judge or jury)
– Entering a plea of guilty
– Entering a plea of nolo contendere
– Adjudication Withheld
That’s right, adjudication withheld and nolo contendere pleas are all treated the same as a conviction as far as your professional license is concerned.
While these alternative means of disposing of a criminal case may be beneficial or expedient for the average citizen, healthcare practitioners have to think of what those dispositions mean for their license.
Don’t give up hope yet though, there is an alternative that will permit your criminal case to be favorably disposed of and allow you to potentially avoid discipline to your professional license. That alternative is pretrial intervention (PTI) programs, sometimes referred ti as “PTI” or “PTIO.”
What Is Pretrial Intervention (PTI)?
PTI is a diversion program for those accused of certain types of crimes that, if successfully completed, results in the criminal charges being dismissed. The best part of this option is that it does not require the defendant to enter any plea.
Individuals who are enrolled in PTI programs are on a sort of quasi-probation. The criminal case against them is continued (put on hold) while the PTI program is running. Typical conditions of PTI supervision require periodic reporting, drug screening, mental health or substance abuse counseling, community service, and payment of supervision fees.
Who Is Eligible For PTI?
Eligibility for entry into PTI programs is governed by Sections 948.08 and 948.16, Florida Statutes.
Generally, any first time offender, or any person who has previously been convicted of not more than one nonviolent misdemeanor or third-degree felony is eligible for PTI so long as the following requirements are met:
1. The defendant has voluntarily agreed to participate in PTI,
2. Consent of the victim,
3. Consent of the prosecutor, and
4. Consent of the judge who presided at the initial appearance.
Should the offense for which the practitioner is facing charges be related to controlled substances, the statute offers additional eligibility criteria:
1. Those charged with nonviolent felonies and are identified as having a substance abuse problem; or,
2. Those who are charged with felonies of the second or third degree for purchase or possession of a controlled substance, or obtaining a prescription by fraud; and
3. Who have not been previously convicted of a felony, nor admitted to a felony PTI program.
Similar programs are available for those having substance abuse problems who are charged with nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, or those who are charged with misdemeanor possession of drugs or alcohol, prostitution, or possession without a prescription.
Benefits of PTI.
PTI may seem like more of a hassle for minor offenses than simply accepting a plea or adjudication withheld. This may be true for the average person, but licensed health professionals have to take into account the professional consequences that come from a conviction, or other similar dispositions of the case. These include actions against their license, reports to certification bodies, reports to health facilities in which they are licensed and reports to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) or other data banks.
The most important thing to remember about PTI is successful completion of the program results in the charges being dismissed!
This means you don’t have to report anything to your board and there will be no discipline on your license. Furthermore, you can later apply to have the arrest expunged (if you are otherwise eligible).
The benefits of entry into a PTI program by a healthcare practitioner cannot really be overstated. The disciplinary process is often long and extremely costly. The effects of discipline on your license can follow you for the remainder of your career and is publicly available to anyone who cares to look.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Licensure Matters.
If you have been arrested, it is strongly recommended that you retain an experienced healthcare attorney who can advise you and your criminal counsel as to the effects a potential outcome could have on your license.
The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners in licensure matters. We frequently consult with criminal defense attorneys regarding defense strategies tailored to minimizing criminal sanctions while at the same time preserving the practitioner’s license.
To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.
Section 948.08, Florida Statutes
Section 948.16, Florida Statutes
Section 456.072, Florida Statutes
About the Authors: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.