This article will be about DUI cases and medical and dental licenses, although much of what we’ll go over is likely to be relevant to other kinds of professional licenses, as well. As a busy Detroit-area, Michigan DUI lawyer, a significant part of my client base holds various kinds of medical licenses through LARA, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. LARA regulates all health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and dental hygienists, amongst others. On top of all the things one must muddle through when facing a DUI, just about everyone who holds any kind of professional license will have the added stress and task of dealing with the agency holding his or her license, as well. The good news, however, is that almost without exception, this never turns out nearly as bad as it seems.
In fact, the whole element of personal stress is an important side effect of a DUI charge. Most of my clients are professionals of one sort or another, and none of them takes a drunk driving charge lightly. Given the more cerebral nature of my clientele, I probably answer a lot more questions, both specific and hypothetical, than a room full of other DUI lawyers. My clients come in with serious and valid concerns, and usually lots of them. For some people, the lawyer whose best description of him or herself as “tough” and “aggressive” is a good choice, but usually not for the type of client I represent. Instead, my clients usually come in feeling like a black cloud has parked itself over their heads. An important part of my job is to help my client understand that while these “doom and gloom” feelings are understandable, at least early on, they are (and will prove to be) misplaced.
There are several considerations that dictate the character (a nice, replacement word for “seriousness”) of a drinking and driving charge. Chief amongst them is where the arrest took place. Location matters in a DUI case, and probably more than any other single factor. It goes without saying that no one plans to get arrested for drinking and driving. A DUI case is, more than anything else, an accident of geography, meaning where you happen to be. The simple takeaway here is that some places are much tougher than others, and it’s always better, if charged with a drunk driving offense, to find one’s self in a more lenient jurisdiction than not. Beyond the “where” of a DUI is whether or not any given case is a 1st offense, a 2nd offense, or a 3rd offense. Admittedly, most professionals don’t wind up facing a 3rd offense (felony) DUI, but it does happen. There is indeed a reason why the “where” issue was addressed first: There are some places where a 2nd offender may feel less harshly treated than a 1st offender in a different court. This, of course, is the exception, and not the rule, but anyone looking to hire a DUI lawyer will notice that, as he or she calls around, one of the first questions asked by the lawyer or staff is “where”? Usually, the inquiry as to whether or not you have any priors will follow thereafter…
In terms of professional licensing concerns, the issue of 1st or 2nd offense is probably the most critical. Everyone makes mistakes. Usually, life affords us at least one good break. This is an important, but simple reality for someone worried about losing his or her livelihood because of a DUI. And to be clear, I have represented innumerable physicians, podiatrists, pharmacists, chiropractors, PA’s, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists, accountants, CPA’s, airline pilots, insurance agents and brokers, and many other licensed professionals, NONE of whom have ever lost their license, or even had it suspended for a day, because of a 1st offense DUI. I’ve seen plenty of these types through a 2nd DUI, as well, and I’ve never seen any of them lose his or her license, either.
Even so, and almost without exception, there is a duty to report a DUI conviction to one’s licensing authority. The timing of that, including disclosure requirements, can vary. This is where more subtle details (meaning things like timing) become important. Most 1st offense DUI cases are plea-bargained down, meaning the charge a person first faces gets reduced to something less serious later on, as the case proceeds. And technically speaking, there is no such thing as “DUI charge” in the state Michigan. In fact, I rather dislike the term, but began using it because I didn’t want to stand on principle, and as an island unto myself, saying, “OWI,” or “operating while intoxicated” while the rest of the world used the colloquialism “DUI.” Taking a cue from no less a source than Bugs Bunny himself, I concluded that, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” and just fell in step with more common vernacular. All fun aside, the final charge that goes on your record is likely to be a lot less serious – and sound a lot less serious – than what was originally made against you. Therefore, holding off on the notification to your licensing authority, if possible, can only help.
In almost all circumstances, the duty to report occurs upon (meaning is triggered upon) conviction. A conviction occurs when you formally plead guilty to something (or, if you’ve taken that gamble, gone to trial and then lost). The starting point of a DUI, after your arrest, is the charge itself. Thus, a person charged with OWI or High BAC may wind up pleading guilty to the lesser offense of impaired driving. The charge to which he or she pleads is the conviction that needs to be reported to the licensing authority. Accordingly, it’s not really helpful to be overzealous and say anything about the matter until it’s concluded – unless the terms of one’s licensure (I’ve certainly never heard of such a requirement) mandate doing so.
In the health care professions, the licensing body’s concerns extend beyond a person’s mere ability to carry out his or her responsibilities safely because many people within the various professions also have access to drugs. The world is full of stories of the drinker, forced into abstinence, that later became addicted to Valium. Nowadays, it might be Xanax, or Vicodin, but the point is the same; one with access to other substances has to be on guard to avoid “substitution.”. This means that sometimes, proactively obtaining a proper substance abuse evaluation, depending on the alignment of a whole host of circumstances, is strongly advisable. This may or may not even have some benefit to, or otherwise play some role in the underlying DUI case as well. Here, however, I must caution the reader that, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Leave the lawyering to the lawyers, the evaluating to the evaluator and the medical treatment to the medical professionals.
A “proper” substance abuse evaluation is one that fits the intended purpose for which it is obtained, and is also clinically reliable. I have spent the better part of a quarter century plodding through mediocre and otherwise unusable evaluations, and others that would be fine if simply meant for review by a fellow clinician. The purpose here is specific, and therefore, I control making the referral for my client. Beyond my legal matriculation, I bring a post-graduate education in addiction studies. I say this not because I think I am some kind of quasi-clinician, nor do I think I can do a proper evaluation, but because I at least speak both the language of the lawyer and the clinician, and know precisely what to look for in an evaluation and an evaluator, and how to guide him or her for the task at hand. Above everything else, a “good” evaluation will always have, as its primary attribute, the indisputable and unmistakable hallmarks of clinical integrity, but even that is lost in an evaluation that does not specifically address the concerns for which it is sought.
In some DUI cases, the duty to report, executed with intelligent timing, may be the only thing that happens. In other words, a licensing body may (and in most situations – particularly a 1st offense – will) take no action as the result of a DUI. And this is really the point; not everything has to be a big deal. I know, from a fairly recent DUI case that I handled for a nurse, that the overwhelming majority of disciplinary actions taken against nurses was for the failure to report the incident to the licensing board. In that case, her 1st offense DUI was duly noted, nothing more was said or done, and the matter summarily closed without consequence or incident.
In repeat offense cases, a person may be required to enroll in and complete the Health Professionals Recovery Program, known as HPRP. There is a lot to this. It is, in fact, a big deal, but it has saved or restored the licenses of countless health professionals for whom alcohol or drug use has become (or at least has been perceived as) a problem. If you try to find out what is likely to happen in any given case or situation, you quickly learn that HPRP takes a completely individualized approach to assessing the needs of a health professional, and then sets up a treatment and monitoring program for that particular person. Most HPRP programs are 2 years in length. Every case is different, so an attempt to discover even the most general outlines of what will happen is most accurately answered with the classic lawyer response: “It depends.”
If there is one thing that time has taught, it’s that DUI cases do, indeed, cut across all indicators of age, race, education and occupational status. No one is immune, except those without the means to drive. We all know that hindsight is 20-20, but we also know that one cannot “un-spill” the milk. If you hold a health care license and you’re facing a DUI, particularly a 1st offense DUI, then take a deep breath and relax. Things will almost certainly work out just fine. A school-bus driver contending with DUI charge is in a much worse occupational position than a neurosurgeon charged with the same offense. In fact, unless you drive (or fly airplanes or captain ships) for a living, a 1st offense drinking and driving charge is not likely to be much of an issue, if any. In 2nd offense cases, things are much more serious, but even so, they can usually be worked out expeditiously without any loss of license.