Your License and DWI

Charges for Driving while Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving under the Influence (DUI) are serious. While the crime is referenced differently from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the penalties for intoxicated driving are similarly severe wherever you are. States use a variety of acronyms to denote the specific DUI offense, and without a sophisticated legal understanding of the difference, you may not fully appreciate the seriousness of the charge.

A DWI may also be known as:

  • Driving under the Influence (DUI)
  • Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI)

Whether charged with a DWI in New Jersey, a DUI in Pennsylvania, or a DWAI in New York, your best shot at mitigating the legal harm you're facing is by hiring an experienced defense attorney.

The fact is that many responsible adults end up behind the wheel after a few drinks. Something as simple as attending an office happy hour or a networking event can land you with a DWI charge. Even if you don't feel impaired when you decide to drive yourself home, you can still be charged and convicted of DWI. Other times, a DWI arrest may be indicative of an ongoing problem with substance abuse and addiction that is affecting other aspects of your life. You'll face more serious consequences when a DWI conviction evidences misconduct within your professional capacity. In either scenario, professional licensing boards are likely to take a hard look at whether or not your professional license should be revoked when you've been convicted of DWI.

For context, each state sets a maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit at 0.08%, and anything over can trigger an aggravated DWI charge. The severity of a charge against you will vary from state to state, so it's important to understand the laws in the state where you received the DWI.

Examples of BAC limitations in states which trigger an enhanced charge are:

  • Idaho – 0.2%
  • New York – 0.18%
  • Illinois – 0.16%
  • California – 0.15%
  • New Jersey: 0.1%
  • Pennsylvania: 0.1%

If you're pulled over on suspicion of DWI and your BAC level reads higher than 0.08%, the charges brought against you may result in a felony conviction. The fines and fees associated with DWI can be exorbitant, often totaling more than $10,000, depending on the nature of the charge. Dealing with the consequences of a DWI conviction isn't just damaging to your bank account—you're also likely to suffer repercussions from your professional licensing board.

If you are a licensed professional who's been convicted of DWI, it is paramount that you contact a professional license defense attorney right away. When licensed professionals are convicted of certain crimes, like DWI, professional licensing boards are likely to initiate an investigation into the offense and hold a formal hearing on the matter. Your license could be revoked unless you mount an assertive and competent defense.

Misdemeanor and Felony DUI Convictions Affect Professional License Defense Strategies

In many states, your first DUI conviction will be considered a misdemeanor offense if there are no aggravating circumstances. A professional licensing board will take the level of the offense into consideration when assessing your fitness for continued licensure. If, however, the charge is a felony DUI charge, the board may be more apt to revoke your professional license unless you're able to demonstrate a sincere lifestyle change.

Factors that elevate a DUI charge to a felony offense include:

  • Multiple DUI convictions
  • The death or injury of others
  • Prior felony DUI conviction

Since professional licensing boards distinguish between misdemeanor convictions and felony convictions, the best way to defend your position with your board will be dependent on what kind of conviction you received. An experienced professional license defense attorney will be able to guide you through the defense process when your professional license is at risk due to either a misdemeanor or a felony DUI conviction.

DWI Convictions Aren't Limited to Alcohol

It's also important to note that DWI charges aren't just limited to driving after you've consumed alcohol. In every state, you can be convicted of an impaired driving charge if you've consumed methamphetamine, cocaine, or marijuana. In some states, you can even face DWI charges for taking your own prescription medication if it impairs your driving.

Importantly, the defense of your professional license may hinge upon the nature of the conviction. For example, impaired driving resulting from taking your own prescription medication may not be considered as severe as the same impairment resulting from illicit drug use. It's much easier to assert that you made an honest mistake when you've taken medicine prescribed to you by a medical professional. Your professional licensing board will be less inclined to believe you don't have an ongoing addiction issue when the DWI conviction results from cocaine use.

Regardless of what caused your intoxication, you deserve a chance to defend your professional license at a formal hearing. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced attorney-advisor who understands the time and financial investment professional licensees have put into their careers. Mr. Lento knows you need to protect that investment and your ability to continue your practice.

How Will a DWAI Conviction Affect Your Professional License?

When you receive your license from your professional licensing board, you agree to operate within the parameters of the board's professional conduct policies. Certain types of misconduct can be grounds for a suspension or termination of your license. Criminal convictions fall under the type of misconduct that can result in these severe disciplinary actions.

Notably, a criminal charge is not the same as a criminal conviction, but in some cases receiving a DWAI charge will raise red flags to your board and could prompt them to take a closer look at you even before you've been convicted. If you receive a formal notice that your professional licensing board is investigating a DWAI charge against you, then you should contact a license defense attorney right away.

Similarly, if you've received a DWAI conviction, you are at a much greater risk of losing your professional license than if a charge is dropped. Depending on the severity of the incident, and your agreeability to rehabilitative programs, revocation of your license may be stayed until the completion of a probationary period.

The bottom line is that a DWAI conviction can quickly escalate into the loss of your professional license if you don't do everything in your power to present a concrete defense.

Professional Licensing Board Procedures After an Investigation Is Triggered

Facing the threat of investigation from your professional licensing board can be nerve-wracking. Oftentimes, licensing boards are responsible for managing the professional licenses of tens of thousands of individuals within the state, and so you can expect to experience delays in the process. Although each board has its own policies and guidelines, the general process will be similar for investigations and disciplinary action.

Once a formal complaint of misconduct is made against you, your professional licensing board will review the accusation to see if it fits within the board's jurisdiction of discipline. The board may perform a preliminary investigation to ensure the veracity of the claim before it continues on with a formal investigation.

During a formal investigation, the board may go through your personal life in great detail. In addition to speaking with witnesses, the board may issue subpoenas for additional information. Although you'll be asked to provide information to the investigative personnel, they do not have to provide all of their findings to you. This step in the process can be extremely frustrating, and many who are the subject of an investigation feel like they're flying blind if they haven't sought out a competent defense attorney who's able to communicate additional behind-the-scenes context to them.

Once the investigation wraps up, a process that itself can take months, the board may hold a formal hearing. The formal hearing may be heard by either the professional licensing board or an Administrative Law Judge. The hearing resembles a trial in many ways—for example, findings will be presented against you, and you'll have an opportunity to defend yourself or offer mitigating circumstances. Finally, the judge or the board will issue a decision, and you will have a certain amount of time to appeal their decision.

Regardless of the type of profession you work in, if you've been convicted of DWAI, your professional license may be at risk. Aside from the shame and stigma associated with losing your professional license, you could also suffer job loss and decreased earning potential in the future. Often, the best way to avoid the devastation of losing your professional license is through the presentation of mitigation circumstances.

What Are Mitigating Circumstances?

At formal hearings, respondents defending their professional licenses will be given an opportunity to present evidence of mitigating circumstances. In terms of a formal hearing resulting from a DWAI conviction, mitigating evidence may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Statements from colleagues who can attest to your professional competency.
  • Letters from substance abuse counselors indicating that you've sought out and received treatment for substance abuse.
  • Letters demonstrating that you've joined substance abuse support programs.
  • Drug test results or physical assessments provided by licensed healthcare professionals.

Remember, it can often take months for a professional licensing board to wrap up their investigation, so you will likely have time to take the steps listed above between the time of your conviction and the time of your formal hearing before the board. Mitigating circumstances demonstrate to the professional licensing board your willingness to ensure the offense won't happen again.

It's also important that you keep detailed records of your actions during your rehabilitation process. Successfully illustrating your intent to correct violative behavior often means the difference between keeping your license or not. Mitigation, in addition to working with an experienced professional license defense attorney, will ensure you're putting your best defense forward.

Do You Have to Disclose Your DWI Conviction to Your Professional Licensing Board?

In short, yes, you are required to disclose your DWI conviction to your professional licensing board. In fact, failure to disclose a DWI conviction to your professional licensing board will not only evidence dishonesty, but it can be considered an additional violation in some professions.

Even if your DWI conviction is a first-time misdemeanor, don't assume you'll be able to fly under the radar of your state board. Many professional licensing boards utilize LiveScan fingerprinting and background checks in their application process, which results in the efficient communication of old and new convictions.

The specific notification requirements vary not only by profession but also from state to state. To be absolutely sure that you're doing everything possible to protect your license, you need to consult with an experienced professional license defense attorney-advisor who can guide you through the process of ensuring you've notified your licensing board of your DWI conviction pursuant to your board's rules.

Medical Professionals Defending Licenses Against a DWI Conviction

In addition to the personal fallout a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist might endure after receiving a criminal conviction for a DWI offense, he or she also must consider the impact such a conviction will have on their professional license. Multiple factors will determine the severity of the disciplinary action handed down. For example, if this is your first DWI offense, your state board will be more inclined to offer leniency. If, however, there are special circumstances surrounding the conviction, or this is not your first DWI conviction, then your professional licensing board will be more likely to revoke your license.

Individuals professionally licensed to practice in the healthcare industry are expected to act in a way that protects the wellbeing of the general public. Even though your DWI conviction probably caused no direct harm to your patients, it is still a serious violation in the eyes of your professional licensing board because driving while intoxicated risks the wellbeing of people around you.

Revocation of your medical license or other healthcare professional license after a DWI conviction can be catastrophic in terms of your career and future earning potential. Even more lenient disciplinary action, such as probation, can have a negative impact on your reputation and career because disciplinary actions are often public records, and patients today are more likely than ever to research their healthcare providers online. Still, rebuilding your reputation on probation is better than losing your license.

If you've been charged with or convicted of DWI, the time to hire an experienced professional license defense attorney is now. Too much is on the line to go it alone or simply hope it works out.

Physicians Convicted of DWI

Doctors convicted of DWI must report the conviction to their state's professional licensing board within a specified time range. Failure to do so may result in additional penalties on top of those imposed as a result of the DWI conviction. A demonstration of mitigating circumstances or a willingness to undergo rehabilitation can often result in a stay of license revocation contingent upon successful completion of a probationary period.

Nurses Convicted of DWI

Nurses convicted of DWI are required to report the conviction to the professional licensing board of their state in accordance with the respective law. An investigation will be commenced into the conviction and perhaps even that charge if the charge evidences ongoing substance abuse issues. A nurse facing the threat of license revocation may present mitigating circumstances during the formal hearing held to determine whether license revocation is appropriate.

Pharmacists Convicted of DWI

Pharmacists must report their DWI conviction to the professional licensing board in their state. Since pharmacists are broadly prohibited from administering controlled substances to themselves or using alcohol or drugs to the extent that it can harm them, their colleagues, or the public, a pharmacist will be subject to an investigation and hearing held by their licensing board. Outcomes for DWI conviction investigations are determined on a case-by-case basis, and mitigating circumstances may result in a stay of license revocation.

Dentists Convicted of DWI

Dentists should report their DWI conviction to their state's professional licensing board, who will then investigate whether the dentist's behavior constitutes an ongoing substance abuse disorder that substantially impacts the dentist's ability to treat his or her patients with the duty of care required. Depending on the severity of the conviction and additional details revealed by the dental board's investigation, a dentist could be subjected to license revocation if mitigating circumstances aren't sufficiently provided.

Other Licensed Professionals Defending Their Licenses Against DWI Convictions

For licensed professionals practicing outside of the healthcare industry, such as accountants or architects, the impact of a DWI conviction may still be cause for license revocation in the eyes of a professional licensing board.

DWI convictions can affect any professional license even when your state licensing board doesn't impose enhanced guidelines regarding your obligation to protect the general public. Licensed professionals are always expected to conduct themselves with honesty and integrity—impropriety, or even just evidence of thereof, often carries severe penalties.

While a DWI charge or subsequent conviction may not directly violate the policies of your professional licensing board, it may signal to the board evidence of a bigger, ongoing issue with substance abuse that could be jeopardizing the way you manage your clients and your business. It's also important to note that while your professional licensing board may not impose disciplinary actions against you for a one-time DWI offense alone, it could trigger an investigation that reveals:

  • Negligent bookkeeping
  • Dishonesty
  • Fraud
  • Breach of fiduciary duties
  • Misappropriation of funds
  • Unprofessional conduct

These professional misconduct violations can ultimately lead to revocation of your professional license; however, if you're able to demonstrate that you've taken steps to improve your behavior since the DWI conviction, or you express a desire to do so moving forward, your licensing board may be willing to negotiate a probationary period instead.

When you consult with an attorney-advisor, you'll learn how best to navigate the process of negotiating less harsh punishments when you're facing a professional licensing board investigation for a DWI conviction.

Accountants Convicted of DWI

When a licensed accountant is convicted of DWI, it is important that they disclose such to their licensing board and their employer. If possible, the accountant should first consult with an experienced attorney-advisor, who can direct the individual on how best to present the information to these authorities, and who will also be able to instruct the accountant on documenting rehabilitative work to present as evidence of mitigating circumstances.

Architects Convicted of DWI

Architects are often subject to criminal background checks by their professional licensing boards. Accordingly, it is important that they disclose any criminal convictions, including those for DWI. If a licensed architect is investigated by his or her board after a DWI conviction, then it is imperative they consult with an experienced attorney who will advise them of the specific misconduct violations the professional licensing board may be most concerned with after learning of the DWI offense.

Do Licensed Professionals Need to Disclose Old DUI Convictions?

Honesty and integrity are industry standards across all professional sectors, and failing to report your DUI conviction can be damaging even if the DUI offense occurred many years ago. Many professional licensing boards require criminal background checks and even LiveScan fingerprinting. In short, if you have an old DUI conviction, then your licensing board is likely to find out about it regardless of whether or not you report it. Again, failure to report may suggest honesty issues to your board.

The exception to the rule that you disclose your prior DUI conviction to your professional licensing board is when you've had it expunged from your record. When a record is expunged, you're not required to disclose it to employers or professional licensing boards except in very limited circumstances. Not all states allow you to expunge DUI convictions, however, so it's important that you understand the laws affecting your DUI conviction in the state where you live.

Rebuilding Your Professional Reputation After a DUI Conviction

Defending your professional license after your board notifies you that you're being investigated because of your DUI conviction may feel like an overwhelming prospect. Not only do you have to contend with the fallout of your criminal conviction on a personal level, but you also need to navigate how it will impact your professional license.

Mistakes happen, and you deserve a chance to rebuild your reputation after a DUI conviction. Successfully repairing professional relationships can begin even during your professional licensing board's investigation. Don't hesitate to seek out mental health professionals and group support during this time, even if the DUI didn't result from sustained substance abuse habits, but especially if it did. Taking these steps and utilizing the resources available won't just demonstrate to the board your desire to put your best foot forward, but it will actually help you do so.

Contact a Professional License Defense Attorney Today

Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have unparalleled experience defending professional licenses when licensing boards investigate individuals for misconduct, including but not limited to DUI convictions. Attorney Joseph D. Lento knows that you don't just need a defense, but you also need someone who will communicate with you and provide you with advice on how best to move through the process of defending your professional license. To learn more, call 888-535-3686 today.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are committed to answering your questions about Physician License Defense, Nursing License Defense, Pharmacist License Defense, Psychologist and Psychiatrist License Defense, Dental License Defense, Chiropractic License Defense, Real Estate License Defense, Professional Counseling License Defense, and Other Professional Licenses law issues in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento will gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact him today to schedule an appointment.

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