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Can a Domestic Violence Arrest Impact Your Professional License?

pexels-mikhail-nilov-8943099-300x200Being arrested and charged with domestic violence in California can wreak havoc on your life in many ways. You may have a protective order against you that forbids you from contact with your significant other and possibly your children. You may be forced from your home. You may have to change your daily habits and routines to avoid running into the person. You may face fines and jail time. But the repercussions can extend even beyond these complications—even as far as your career. As many licensed professionals have learned the hard way, a domestic violence conviction can ultimately result in having your professional license suspended or revoked.

Doctors are required to maintain an immaculate record of integrity for their patients’ safety. Lawyers have the duty to uphold justice for all parties involved in a legal proceeding without prejudice or bias. Nurses must provide care that is both competent and compassionate while maintaining confidentiality at all times. And so on. All of these professions, along with many others, require practitioners to maintain high ethical standards as well as demonstrate professionalism through their conduct at work–even off duty. Being charged with domestic violence puts all that integrity into question largely because it’s considered a “crime of moral turpitude”–that is a crime that involves dishonesty or intentional harm, and one that carries harsher penalties than other types of crimes.

If you are a licensed professional in California (e.g., doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, CPA, etc.), you need to be aware of the possible consequences a domestic violence conviction could have on your career. Let’s explore this issue in greater detail.

How California State Licensing Boards Address Criminal Convictions, including Domestic Violence

California has very rigorous processes for determining who is qualified to hold a professional license. Business and Professions Code (BPC) Sections 480 and 490 address the rules by which the state licensing boards within these professions may either deny license applications or revoke licenses over criminal convictions. Specifically, these laws state that a licensing board may either deny a new license or suspend or revoke an existing license if the crime committed is “substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the license was issued.” For example, if you commit a crime that demonstrates dishonesty, like forgery or embezzlement, you are probably ineligible to hold a license as an accountant. However, if you are convicted of a crime that does not have anything to do with your profession, then the licensing board is less likely to take any action.

Most state licensing boards will be automatically notified if you are convicted of a crime—and some even receive an alert if you are arrested (based on fingerprinting records). In addition, some licensing boards make it a requirement for you to report to them if you’ve been arrested or convicted of a crime (or to disclose this information on an application). For most licensed professionals, especially those involving the public trust, the standards of conduct will specify that “crimes of moral turpitude” (of which domestic violence is one) are grounds for disciplinary action by the licensing board.

Thus, if you’re convicted of domestic violence, your licensing board may take disciplinary action against you. The severity of the penalty will depend on a variety of factors, including the nature of the offense, whether you’ve been convicted of other crimes in the past, whether there are other contributing factors to the violence (e.g., substance abuse/addiction), and whether you’ve made amends for your actions.

Will the Board Automatically Suspend or Revoke Your License over a Domestic Violence Conviction?

No. By law, your licensing board cannot invoke disciplinary action against your license without giving you a fair hearing and an opportunity to answer the complaint lodged against you. The board will usually begin by conducting a preliminary investigation, in which they may ask for a written explanation. If the issue moves forward, you’ll appear before the board or an administrative law judge in a formal hearing where you’ll have the chance to provide context to the charges.

At the conclusion of the hearing, even if the board decides disciplinary action is necessary, revoking your license is still the worst-case scenario. There are other alternative penalties the board may invoke that would allow you to keep your license, including formal reprimands, fines, probation, mandatory treatment, etc. However, bear in mind that even these lesser penalties could ultimately harm your career because they will become a matter of public record. Any potential patient, client, or employer can conduct an online search and see whether any disciplinary actions have been taken against your professional license.

Recent Legal Reforms Have Changed How Licensing Boards Address Criminal Convictions

As a bit of good news for professional licensees, as of July 1, 2020, some drastic reforms have been enacted via Assembly Bill 2138, placing stricter limits on how some state licensing boards may penalize certain criminal convictions, including domestic violence charges. Under the new law, licensing boards covered by BPC Section 480 can’t deny license applications or bring disciplinary actions against licensees under certain conditions, including:

  • Many convictions that are more than 7 years old.
  • Convictions that have been expunged.
  • Deferred entry of judgment convictions (e.g., defendants who plead guilty to enter into diversionary programs as an alternative to conviction).
  • Arrests that don’t lead to conviction (i.e., infractions or citations).

The changes only apply to licensing agencies that operate under the Business and Professions Code, so professions like teachers and financial/banking professions wouldn’t be protected. Also, certain serious felonies involving violence, financial crimes, or sex crimes aren’t protected by the reforms, so if your domestic violence charges result in a felony conviction, the reforms might not apply.

Defending Against Domestic Violence Charges

California law is very strict and far-reaching when it comes to domestic violence charges, so if you’re facing these charges, you already may be facing huge life disruptions and serious penalties if convicted. If you happen to be a licensed professional, your career could also hang in the balance—another reason to have seasoned legal representation in your corner when facing domestic violence charges. Your chances of triggering disciplinary action from the licensing board go down considerably if we can help you get an outcome that doesn’t result in a criminal conviction. Call our offices today for a free consultation.

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