Criminal Arrests & Convictions

Recently, I have represented a pharmacist whose reapplication for his controlled substances registration was denied by the Texas Department of Public Safety when he voluntarily acknowledged that he had previously been convicted of a felony. He was one of several defendants on trial for the same set of criminal transactions and his own share of the guilt was slight. It was essentially a case of bad judgment and naivety on the part of my client. He had entered into a business relationship with the wrong people and was now paying for their misdeeds. The Federal Drug Enforcement Agency had essentially agreed and declined to take action against his controlled substances registration. In addition the Texas Pharmacy Board has so far chosen not to seek any disciplinary sanction.

 

In contrast, the Texas Department of Public Safety pursuant to the Texas Controlled Substances Act § 481.063(e)(2)(A) summarily denied his reapplication on the basis of his voluntary admission of his felony conviction. This section of the Health and Safety Code provides for such denial when an applicant has been convicted or placed on community supervision or probation for a felony. Fortunately, the Texas Legislature has also inserted into this chapter a provision allowing the Director of the DPS to probate a denial under § 481.063(e)(2)(A) upon a showing of good cause. The Act and the Department of Public Safety’s own administrative rules also generally allow an applicant to request a hearing wherein they may present evidence and argument in their favor.

 

As a hearing would almost certainly be necessary to present evidence establishing good cause for a probated order, I requested one as part of my client’s response to the DPS’s decision to deny his reapplication. In reply, the DPS sent a letter reiterating their denial and pointing to § 481.063(h). This Section holds that in the case of a denial based on a felony conviction, the provisions of the Texas Administrative Procedure Act do not apply. This is significant in that this bars access to the normal administrative process, most importantly, a licensee’s right to a full evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.Continue Reading Department of Public Safety Arguably Denies Due Process

All nurses who have been convicted or pled guilty or no contest to certain felony offenses should be aware that under a recent addition to the Nursing Practice Act, the Texas Nursing Board holds expanded authority to impose tough sanctions. Already a serious matter, an initial conviction for these offenses now carries additional consequences including mandatory revocation under certain conditions.

Chapter 301.4535 of the Texas Nursing Practice Act states that the Texas Board of Nursing must suspend or refuse to initially license any nurse / applicant who has been initially convicted of:

  • Murder under § 19.02, capital murder under § 19.03, or manslaughter under § 19.04 of the Texas Penal Code;
  • Kidnapping or unlawful restraint under § 20 of the Penal Code, when the offense was punished as a felony or state jail felony;
  • Sexual Assault under § 22.011 of the Penal Code;
  • Aggravated Sexual Assault under § 22.021
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children under § 21.02, or indecency with a child under § 21.11 of the Penal Code;
  • Aggravated Assault under Section 22.021 of the Penal Code:
  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly injuring a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual under § 22.04 of the Penal Code;
  • Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly abandoning or endangering a child under § 22.041 of the Penal Code;
  • Aiding suicide under § 22.08 when the offense was punished as a state jail felony;
  • An offense under § 25.07 of the Penal Code that was punished as a felony;
  • An offense under § 25.071 of the Penal Code that was punished as a felony;
  • An agreement to abduct a child from custody under § 25.031 of the Penal Code;
  • The sale or purchase of a child under § 25.08 of the Penal Code;
  • Robbery under § 29.02 of the Penal Code;
  • Aggravated Robbery under § 29.03 of the Penal Code;
  • An offense for which a defendant is required to register as a sex offender under Chapter 62 of the Code of Criminal Procedure; or
  • An offense under the law of another state, federal law, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice that contains elements that are substantially similar to the elements of an offense listed in this subsection.

Note that the statute’s coverage includes licensees who have been convicted or pled guilty to one of the above offenses and who are then sentenced to deferred adjudication, community supervision, or probation. The basic message of §301.4535 is that the Board must and will automatically suspend an active license or refuse to initially license a nurse who has been initially convicted of one of the above specified offenses.

Over the objections of the Nursing Board, my law firm has successfully argued before the State Office of Administrative Hearings that when read in conjunction with the rest of the Nursing Practice Act, the Board’s own rules, and the Texas Occupations Code, § 301.4535 authorizes the Board to issue a stayed suspension as well as an enforced suspension. The former allows a licensee to continue practicing as a nurse while the latter does not. However, in order to effectively show that they qualify for a stayed order, a nurse will almost certainly need to present evidence and argument at an official hearing as to why, given the circumstances of their case, a stayed suspension would be appropriate. This involves the gathering and presentation of remedial evidence, possibly before an Administrative Law Judge in a trial-like setting. The eye of an experienced attorney is often able to pick out the kinds of beneficial remedial evidence which a layperson will miss. Further, a nurse’s right to such a hearing is contingent on their making a timely request for it. To ensure that you meet this deadline, consultation with an attorney may be advisable.Continue Reading Serious Felony Offesnes & Discipline by the Texas Board of Nursing

For the January 17-18, 2008 meeting of the Texas Board of Nursing (formerly the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners), attorney and general counsel Dusty Johnson presented an informational report on the Board’s policy in regards to minor criminal infractions and licensing. Of particular interest for current and future Texas nurses, the report provides a list

Although initial arrests and convictions for Driving While Intoxictated (DWI) will not ordinarily result in the imposition of a disciplinary sanction against a Texas Nurse, they often do give rise to a stressful and searching investigation by Staff of the Board of Nurse Examiners. This result is due to, on the one hand, the legal fact that under the Nursing Practice Act, many DWI’s do not relate to the practice of nursing, and on the other, the practical reality of the Nursing Board’s zealous policing of what it deems unprofessional conduct (Texas Occupation Code § 301.452(b)(10).  A knowledgeable attorney can best secure a positive outcome by ensuring that the correct standard is applied and not substituted by the Board’s personal opinion(s) on what constitutes unprofessional or dishonorable conduct.  

Under the Nursing Practice Act the Board can take disciplinary action against a licensee if a nurse has been convicted or placed on deferred adjudication for either a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. (Texas Occupation Code § 301.452(b)(3)). An individual’s first two DWI’s are misdemeanors under the Texas Penal Code with the third and all those thereafter rising to felonies. From a legal standpoint, however, the Nursing Board’s broad discretion to take disciplinary action under the Nursing Practice Act is limited by the Texas Occupation Code’s prescription that discipline can only be imposed if the felony or misdemeanor “directly relates to the duties and responsibilities of the license holder.” (Texas Occupation Code § 53.021). In deciding this issue, the Board must weigh certain factors such as “the relationship of the crime to the purposes for requiring a license to engage in the occupation” and “the relationship of the crime to the ability, capacity, or fitness required to perform the duties and discharge the responsibilities of the licensed occupation.” (§ 53.022)

Board Staff’s policy, however, is to initiate an investigation into a nurse’s fitness and character if they have two or more criminal arrests for alcohol or drug related offenses in a lifetime. Board Staff does not seem to differentiate between arrests, deferred probations, regular probations, dismissals and final convictions with respect to opening an investigation. Once the investigation is initiated, Board Staff tries to force the nurse into a forensic psychological evaluation and polygraph test in an effort to determine if the license holder suffers from a DSM IV diagnosis of chemical abuse or dependence. Unfortunately, any other conduct or psychiatric disorder discovered through this battery of questionable discovery is then utilized to stipulate the nurse’s registration. Board Staff is successful in this less than admirable procedure as many nurses think they do not need or can not afford an attorney. Competent, experienced counsel however, can put a halt to this process and mount a successful defense against Board Staff’s position that all criminal conduct is unprofessional and therefore relates to the practice of nursing. Moreover, a knowledgeable attorney will know how to circumvent Board Staff’s insistence that the Nurse undergo an evaluation with a “Board Approved” expert and then submit to the rigors of a “qualifying” polygraph examination.   Continue Reading DWI & Nursing License Discipline by the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 55, Article 55.04 forbids a State Agency from using, questioning an individual about, or in any way releasing information about an arrest that has been expunged pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 55. Moreover, Tex. Code Crim. Proc. § 55.03 provides that the effect of an Expunction Order in a licensure disciplinary proceeding, including the application process,  allows for the individual to deny the arrest and the existence of the Order of Expunction. However, the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners (BNE) requires that a licensed nurse or nursing license applicant disclose the existence of the arrest on renewals and initial license applications. It is undetermined if they seek to utilize these arrests against the nurse in a disciplinary proceeding or as a basis for the denial of a license. However, the mere thought that the registration renewals or applications ask about information which if utilized would subject members of Board Staff to criminal sanctions raises a few alarming concerns.Continue Reading Expunctions: Disclosure, Discipline & The Texas Board of Nurse Examiners