If you are a nurse arrested on suspicion of committing a crime in Georgia, your professional career is at stake.
Whether you were arrested for a traffic offense, misdemeanor, felony, any crime involving “moral turpitude,” violation of the Controlled Substance Act, or a DUI, you will need to take a number of extra steps to convince the Board of Nursing to renew your nursing license (or approve you to take the NCLEX exam if you are a new graduate).
After all those years of studying and practicing nursing, this can be a devastating blow.
Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the effects through experienced legal representation, but the first step in addressing the potential problems associated with license renewal is to understand how a criminal arrest will impact you.
A felony arrest/conviction and your nursing license renewal in Georgia
Being arrested on suspicion of a felony is amongst the most serious accusations that anyone can face in Georgia.
Felony crimes are classified separately from misdemeanors because of the seriousness with which they are viewed by the justice system.
Penalties for convictions are nearly always severe. For a nurse, they can be career-ending.
The Georgia Board of Nursing can refuse to grant or to renew a license if you have been convicted of a felony. This can be true even if you are sentenced under Georgia’s First Offender Act, or plead nolo contendere.
If you have been arrested for a felony crime, therefore, it is vital to seek the best legal representation available to defend the charge.
When should I report the arrest or conviction to the Georgia nursing board?
In Georgia, all nurses renew their license on a two-year cycle. Roughly half of the state’s nurses renew in even years, and the other half in odd years, with a deadline of January 31.
During your renewal paperwork, there are questions that ask if you have been arrested or convicted of a crime since your last renewal. If you answer “yes” to the question, your paperwork will be diverted for consideration.
You will then need to submit a “Letter of Explanation” which explains the circumstances of your arrest and/or conviction.
While some nurses only explain the circumstances, the most successful letters of explanation have much more included in them, including mitigation evidence, reference letters, proof of additional continuing education hours specific to the allegations, and many other components.
Depending on the type of crime you have been charged with, your attorney may send you to a mental and physical evaluation (MPE) by a Board qualified physician.
If you have a PENDING criminal case when you submit this letter, you need to be extra careful to not admit anything that could be used against you in the criminal case. This is why it is important to hire experienced counsel to draft and compile your letter of explanation.
If you have already been convicted of a crime, you will need to also submit a certified copy of the disposition, and proof of completion of as many components of the sentence as possible (like community service, evaluations, fine payments, etc).
What factors does the Board consider when assessing an arrest or conviction?
The Board of Nursing in Georgia will assess each case according to the available information on an arrest and conviction.
The bottom line is that any felony crime is grounds for license refusal or denial but the Board will consider the following factors:
- When was the arrest or conviction?
If you were arrested very recently as a nursing student or a practicing nurse, this could adversely affect your initial license application or renewal.
If the arrest happened in the distant past, it is less likely to affect your license renewal. Age and circumstances at the time are key factors to consider and will be weighed up against your professional record as a practicing nurse.
- Did the felony involve violence?
If violence was involved in the crime (battery, assault, robbery, etc.) it will be viewed very dimly by the Board, as it is by the Georgia justice system.
Nurses are expected to fulfill their position of trust with some of the most vulnerable individuals in society, so a violent felony charge or conviction will raise major concerns over renewing a license.
- Did it involve drugs?
Nurses are entrusted with controlled substances. Therefore, any arrest involving an illegal drug (even marijuana) will raise a red flag to the Board.
In fact, a mandatory three-month license suspension applies for a first-time felony conviction involving a controlled substance and a second conviction results in license revocation.
- Was there sexual misconduct?
A nurse’s position of trust comes with expectations of certain behavior due to the vulnerability of patients in their care.
So, if you were arrested and convicted of a crime involving sexual misconduct or a “boundary violation”, this would be considered a major obstacle to nursing license renewal.
- How serious was the crime?
Although felonies are not divided into different classes in Georgia, as in many states, the severity of your alleged crime will be taken into account by the Board when considering your license renewal.
Any crime that involves violence or implies issues with honesty, integrity or trust for an applicant will be viewed harshly.
What if you are arrested and convicted under the Controlled Substance Act in Georgia?
A charge for possession, manufacture or trafficking of controlled substances will create major problems when attempting to renew your nursing license in Georgia.
Even a misdemeanor marijuana charge will be a warning sign to the Board and this may result in license penalties. Certain drug-related convictions carry mandatory license suspensions or revocations, as already mentioned.
You may be required to submit a mental and physical (MPE) evaluation before a final decision about your license is made.
How do crimes involving “moral turpitude” affect your license?
If you have been arrested and convicted of a crime involving “moral turpitude” the Georgia Board of Nursing can refuse to renew your license.
“Moral turpitude” is a somewhat antiquated phrase that is still used in Georgia law. Although the Board does not define it, is generally understood to be:
“An act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.”
In other words, if your actions fall below commonly held moral standards, your crime can be regarded as a crime of moral turpitude. The Georgia courts often include shoplifting in this bracket and misdemeanors involving the obstruction of justice may also be included.
The term is open to interpretation so a broad range of contextual factors will be considered by the Board before renewing the license of a nurse arrested and convicted of such a crime.
A major theme that is seen with nursing license cases, though, is allegations that the nurse diverted drugs.
That factual basis can be prosecuted under several legal theories, including felony theft of a controlled substance, which in itself would be considered a crime involving moral turpitude.
Being convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude does not mean you will automatically lose your nursing license. It just means you need to hire experienced counsel to guide you through the landmines, and build the best case possible to save your nursing license.
The Board of Nursing will look at the conviction to see if the crime involving moral turpitude directly relates to your nursing practice. OCGA § 43-1-19(q)(1).
In doing so, the Board of Nursing shall consider:
(A) The nature and seriousness of such felony or crime involving moral turpitude and the relationship of such felony or crime involving moral turpitude to the nursing occupation;
(B) The age of the individual at the time such felony or crime involving moral turpitude was committed;
(C) The length of time elapsed since such felony or crime involving moral turpitude was committed;
(D) All circumstances relative to such felony or crime involving moral turpitude, including, but not limited to, mitigating circumstances or social conditions surrounding the commission of such felony or crime involving moral turpitude; and;
(E) Evidence of rehabilitation and present fitness to perform the duties of the occupation for which the license is sought or held. See OCGA § 43-1-19(q)(2)
Seek relevant legal assistance if you have lost your nursing license
If you are arrested and/or convicted of a criminal offense,, there is no question – you WILL have to report that to the Board of Nursing, and you WILL have to present your best case to avoid nursing license consequences.
If you still have a pending criminal case, it becomes ever more important to hire competent counsel to guide you through the letter of explanation process without admitting to the commission of a crime.
Any arrest and charge will require appropriate legal assistance to provide the best chance of avoiding a conviction. This can not only help you avoid a criminal record but safeguard your career too.
A criminal defense attorney with experience in defending nurses can help ensure that your next nursing license renewal application is a successful one.
Contact us at the Law Office of Adam D. Brown to arrange a free case evaluation.