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San Francisco DUI Attorney: Consequence of DUI Arrests on Professional Licenses

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Business & Professions Code (B&P) §490, with specified exceptions, enables any licensing board to discipline a licensee who has been convicted of a crime that is “substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the license was issued."

Business & Professions Code §480 authorizes licensing boards to deny a license to an applicant based upon a conviction of a crime. A “no contest" plea or expungement order does not relieve a licensee from discipline or prevent denial of a license due to a conviction.

Licensing agencies in California are notified of arrests by the California Department of Justice, which cross-references criminal records against professional licensing records. Some agencies do not wait for a conviction, but instead send a letter to the licensee following notification of an arrest - requesting that the licensee return a completed statement about the incident and pending court case under penalty of perjury. Counsel representing these individuals should caution the licensee about how to respond, as they do not want to incriminate themselves but do not want to ignore the request or show a lack of remorse (it’s probably best to give a very limited response at that juncture).

Many businesses, services and professions require licensing by the State of California. In order to obtain or renew such a license, the individuals are frequently asked if they have ever been convicted of a crime. The most important thing they can do is to answer the question honestly, but they should read the question carefully and just answer the question asked. If the conviction has been expunged, they must still admit it (see P.C. §1203.4(a)), but they can indicate that it has been expunged. Some licensed professionals, such as physicians and pilots, have a duty to self-report criminal convictions to the licensing agency. Some agencies receive a report of any criminal conviction suffered by one of its licensees.

As for discipline, the licensing agencies review the facts and circumstances involved in the conduct underlying the criminal conviction (e.g., moderate or high blood-alcohol level; leaving the scene of an accident, etc.). The question is whether “the crime or act is substantially related to the qualifications, functions or duties of the business or profession for which application is made." B&P §§480 (license denial) and 490 (license suspension or revocation). Each licensing agency is required to establish guidelines in this arena:

Each board under the provisions of this code shall develop criteria to aid it, when considering the denial, suspension or revocation of a license, to determine whether a crime or act is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession it regulates.

B&P §481. The agencies must “take into account all competent evidence of rehabilitation furnished by the applicant or licensee." B&P §482. For this reason, it is helpful for the licensee to embark on a program of recovery right away and maintain verification of it.

As a trend, licensing boards appear more inclined to discipline licensees or deny licenses based upon drunk driving convictions in recent years. Although it is a matter of discretion depending upon the internal policies of a board, multiple DUI offenses are more likely to be problematic than a single offense because the indicate the likelihood of alcoholism. Most license discipline cases based upon DUI conviction alone result in a penalty less severe than revocation.

Always Answer Honestly! A licensee or license applicant can exacerbate the difficulties caused by a DUI conviction by failing to disclose a criminal conviction on a license application or license renewal form. No-contest pleas, expunged convictions, and People v. West pleas (defendant pled guilty but did not admit factual basis for plea) must be disclosed. Failure to disclose can constitute a more serious ground for discipline or denial of a license than the DUI conviction itself, as it bears upon the honesty and trustworthiness of the applicant or licensee and is closer in time to disciplinary proceedings than the conviction itself.

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