Licensees and license applicants are usually aware that criminal convictions can cause them problems with state agencies. As we’ve discussed on this blog before, even expunged convictions show up on a rap sheet, and licensing agencies have the statutory authority to require that the conviction be disclosed. What licensees often don’t realize is that they are always under the microscope of a state agency — even for contact with law enforcement that doesn’t result in a conviction. For example, even being arrested for a crime can be used to show a lack of fitness for a professional license.
Licensing agencies have the authority to discipline a license for "unprofessional conduct," which is defined in different places in California law depending on the profession. For example, for a vocational nurse, the ban on "unprofessional conduct" comes from Business and Professions Code section 2878(a). Section 2878(a) allows the board to suspend or revoke a license for "Unprofessional conduct, which includes, but is not limited to, the following:" and then further describes acts that would be considered unprofessional.
The phrase "is not limited to" is what gives the Board almost unlimited discretion in what they consider "unprofessional." You do not have to be convicted of a crime in order to get in trouble for doing something the Board considers "unprofessional." If you get arrested for committing a violent act, but a district attorney later decides not to press charges against you, the Board could still attempt to discipline your license based on what you were accused of doing.
Our firm has already seen investigators, crime lab technicians, police officers, and even eyewitnesses testify against licensees for acts that never led to a criminal conviction of any kind. Our clients are often shocked at the measures a state agency will take in order to try to prove "unprofessional conduct." That’s why we pride ourselves on our experience in administrative hearings, making the kind of complex, nuanced legal arguments that are effective against aggressive state agencies and their lawyers, who often are hired from the California Department of Justice.
For licensees and license applicants, it is important to be aware that if you have had contact with law enforcement in the past, the incident may not be completely behind you. If you are worried about the potential for an arrest or criminal charge to affect your chances at a state license, contact an experienced license defense attorney.