The first thing to bear in mind if you have been arrested is that it is not the same as being convicted. While you are considered innocent until proven guilty in the criminal case, the Board of Nursing inquiry begins with the arrest itself. This means that even if your criminal case is dismissed, you still have an obligation to report the arrest to the Board.
If you are arrested, you are only under suspicion of having committed a crime. In the criminal case, you must be charged and convicted before you have a criminal record. A key distinction between the criminal case and the Board of Nursing case is that a conviction is not necessary for there to be a “record” with the Board of Nursing. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Georgia’s First Offender Act does not protect you from Board action. Because of this, you should hire an experienced professional license defense attorney like Adam D. Brown to co-counsel with your criminal defense attorney.
Ultimately, even if you were arrested in the recent past, you can still become a nurse if you take steps to demonstrate that you are a trustworthy and dedicated person who should be accepted into the nursing profession and that you are fit to practice nursing with reasonable skill and safety despite the prior arrest.
There are several situations where a criminal arrest can bar you from being licensed as a nurse. If you believe you might be denied licensure, you should contact an experienced Board of Nursing lawyer to discuss ways to improve your chance of becoming licensed.
Table of Contents
How does a criminal conviction affect a nursing license application?
Like with many job applications, applying to nursing school or for a nursing license requires a criminal background check. It is important to recognize that there is a distinction between a “conviction” and a “disposition.” There are times when you might resolve a criminal matter without being convicted, such as in First Offender Act sentences, Conditional Discharge sentences, or certain pretrial diversion programs. In these types of dispositions, even though you are not “convicted,” the Georgia Board of Nursing will still treat the disposition as if a conviction occurred. O.C.G.A. 43-1-19(a)(4) provides the Board of Nursing with the authority to sanction a license despite those special types of non-conviction outcomes.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) work in different settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and extended care facilities. However, they are all regulated by the nursing board in Georgia, which is charged with protecting the public’s safety.
If an arrest, disposition, or criminal conviction shows up on a background check, the relevant authorities will need to investigate further before approving your application, whether it is an initial application for licensure, renewal application, or petition for reinstatement. Misdemeanor convictions (such as shoplifting or DUI) generally create fewer serious complications than felonies (such as sexual assault or serious drug crimes) but all arrests and dispositions (whether a conviction occurs or not) will need to be explained to stand a chance of becoming or remaining a nurse.
If you answer “yes” to questions about criminal arrests, dispositions, or on your application, you will be expected to provide further information in a document called a “letter of explanation,” which also requires additional relevant court documents. An interview may be necessary to explain more about the arrest and criminal case outcome.
How seriously this affects your application will depend on the nature of the arrest, and outcome and when they occurred. In some instances, the Board of Nursing may require you to undergo a Mental & Physical Evaluation, and the Board’s decision may be heavily influenced by the findings of that evaluation.
Is it best to disclose your conviction(s)?
As a nurse, or a graduate nurse applying for initial licensure, you have an obligation and duty to report all arrests, dispositions, or convictions to the Board of Nursing. Failure to disclose any of those item will result in further sanctions from the Board.
In most instances, failing to disclose a minor arrest will result in harsher sanctions than you would have received had you originally disclosed the arrest. All arrests, dispositions, and convictions should be disclosed in nursing applications, whether it is an initial application for licensure, renewal application, or petition for reinstatement.
Disclosure of those items will not always automatically bar you from approval for a nursing license. It is best, though, to consult with an experienced license defense attorney to make sure you present yourself in the best light, and to work with your criminal defense attorney for the best possible outcome.
Which convictions automatically prohibit you from getting a nursing license?
In Georgia, as in many states, certain crimes will automatically prohibit you from getting or renewing a nursing license.
For instance, an offense requiring registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act, criminal battery against a patient or a forcible felony will automatically disqualify you from a nursing license. Felony dispositions, even without a conviction (i.e. First Offender Treatment) will result in a mandatory three month suspension of your nursing license if you are already licensed.
Which convictions don’t prohibit you from getting a nursing license?
Each nursing application is judged on its merits in Georgia, meaning that most misdemeanor convictions (and many felonies) will not automatically bar you from getting a license. The Board may direct an applicant to take further action in those cases before it issues a fully unencumbered license.
However, recent convictions for crimes of “moral turpitude” will certainly make it difficult. Crimes of moral turpitude are those done recklessly or with evil intent.
Generally speaking, convictions as a juvenile are unlikely to affect a nursing application.
What about expunged or sealed convictions, or expunged or sealed convictions?
First, let’s get terminology correct. Colloquially, “expungement” is a term used to mean that an arrest record has been cleaned up and is no longer visible to the general public. Georgia does not have anything called expungement. Instead, Georgia has a process called “record restriction.” What that process does is it restricts access to a person’s arrest record, except for law enforcement, courts, and certain professional boards of licensing (including the Board of Nursing). If your arrest record has been “record restricted” in Georgia, the Board of Nursing can still see it.
The process of “sealing” a record in Georgia, merely means that the court documents in the County Clerk’s office have been sealed by Court Order, which means that nobody can access those documents except for the judge, you, or your attorney. While the Board of Nursing may not be able to access those sealed court documents, they can certainly still see the arrest record, and if you want to be a nurse in Georgia, it is your obligation to fully explain the arrest, disposition, and/or conviction.
If your criminal case was overturned on appeal, that is amazing. You are legally not guilty at that point. However, remember, it is the arrest that triggers the duty to disclose to the Board of Nursing, and not necessarily the final outcome.
Can you go to nursing school if you have been charged with a crime?
Some nursing schools in Georgia will perform a background check before enrolling students. If so, your criminal charge may affect your application. It’s best to ask around and check first if you are concerned about an arrest, criminal charge or past conviction. Because you will need to disclose any arrests on your Board of Nursing application anyways, it is your responsibility as an early professional to disclose these arrests to your nursing school. While certain past conduct will prevent you from becoming a nurse, you may be surprised to hear that there is a wide range of past criminal conduct, whether merely alleged or convicted of, that can be rehabilitated. The most important thing in these instances is to err on the side of full disclosure. As discussed previously, the failure to disclose a piece of history can often be viewed more harshly than the original conduct itself.
If you have chosen nursing as your career and fear that your plans may be disrupted by a criminal background check, talk over your options with a criminal defense lawyer experienced in professional license defense.
Advice and representation from a suitably qualified attorney can make the difference between pursuing your dream and a failed application.
Even if you have a criminal arrest record, providing you can demonstrate that you are a good person who deserves a second chance and is committed to following a nursing career, you have a chance of success.
Contact the Law Office of Adam D. Brown to arrange a case evaluation if you need advice or representation in matters concerning nursing licenses or any professional license defense in Georgia.