Pennsylvania Attorneys and their Disciplinary Process

My licensure defense practice includes representing attorneys facing disciplinary process in Pennsylvania. Attorneys licensed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – whether practicing in Pennsylvania or not – are subject to discipline the same as other Pennsylvania licensees. Criminal conduct and egregious unethical conduct expose attorneys to prosecution for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Attorney discipline in Pennsylvania’s attorney regulatory system is more complex that other licensees. The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the court in the Supreme Court in which disciplinary actions are filed. The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct govern the practice of law in the Commonwealth. These Rules set forth the minimum ethical standards for the practice of law and constitute a set of Rules that all attorneys must follow. These Rules were originally promulgated by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on April 1, 1988.

The Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement is the administrative process through which Supreme Court disciplinary actions are filed, hearings, held and appeals prosecuted. These Rules establish the attorney disciplinary system in Pennsylvania and set forth a broad set of procedural Rules governing attorney discipline. These rules were originally adopted by the Supreme Court in November 1972.

Disciplinary Board Rules and Procedures supplement and implement the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, and govern proceedings before the Disciplinary Board. These Rules are promulgated by the Disciplinary Board. This is the main difference between attorney disciplinary matters and other licensed professionals. Where the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA) handles all other licensee discipline, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court supervises and disciplines attorneys.

Almost all other aspects of attorney disciplinary matters are similar to that of other licensees. The supreme court issues orders of prosecution to which attorneys must respond to the Prothonotary with all official filings. Disciplinary board council must be copied on all pleadings filed with the court.

Criminal convictions, not arrests, trigger Supreme court investigations and disciplinary action. Routinely Board prosecutors emergently file Orders to Show Cause to suspend attorneys license to practice law. There are much shorter time periods for attorneys to respond to disciplinary filings.

Orders to show cause why in attorney’s license should not be suspended for a criminal conviction in either of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, federal court, or any other jurisdiction must be immediately addressed. Lack of extra jurisdiction disciplinary prosecutions will not forestall the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from commencing it’s own independent disciplinary action.

Learning about and cooperating with prosecutors from the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board is important. Typically these attorneys are former prosecutors and, as attorneys themselves, seek to protect the profession from attorneys who engage in unethical and illegal conduct.
Theft of client funds and improper use of attorney trust account money will always trigger emergent prosecutions. Impairment prosecutions against attorneys caught using drugs, driving under the influence, or even showing up in court impaired are real, frequent, and as rampant as other professionals. Attorneys also suffer from mental health issues, diagnosed or not, that may begin to greatly affect their practice, bleed over into their practice of law. Untreated mental health issues, illnesses, drug abuse, or alcoholism always translate into client complaints.

If you are an attorney in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania please call me to discuss your potential or pending attorney disciplinary action.

Disclosing a Criminal Conviction on a Licensure Application — Part 2

In my last blog I wrote about real estate applicant who failed to disclose on his Real Estate Commission application a criminal conviction. Upon discovery the Commission revoked his license and the Commonwealth Court approved of the action. Today’s blog involves the exact opposite result for one of my physician clients.

On October 14, 2014 Dr. Christopher Elder, a Texas licensed physician, submitted an application to Pennsylvania’s Medical Board for a license to practice medicine and surgery. Unlike Hawes, Elder disclosed a 2010 federal conviction for aiding in abetting and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846. On April 2, 2015 the Pennsylvania Medical Board provisionally denied Elder’s application. The Board maintained the Criminal History Record Information Act, 18 Pa. C.S. § 9124(c)(1) (CHIRA), authorized licensure denial because of Elder’s felony conviction. The Board also denied licensure, maintaining Elder lacked good moral character and did not possess the requisite training and experience.

Elder appealed the conditional denial of licensure. At the hearing before a the Hearing Officer Elder presented his credentials, training and experience, the facts of the criminal case, and character evidence. Consistent with prior Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent, Elder maintained the criminal conviction was too remote for the Board to determine such affected his current ability to do his job lawfully. Elder’s mitigating evidence established his minor role in the criminal case and his rehabilitation since release from prison.

The Hearing Officer weighed Elder’s witness’ credibility and Elder’s mitigating evidence. He ruled in Elder’s favor, stating that while Elder’s criminal conduct demonstrated moral turpitude at the time of its commission, Elder presented persuasive evidence of his rehabilitation and present moral fitness to practice medicine. A period of probation was required to allow Elder the ability to secure appropriate supplemental educational classes for competency.

The Medical Board rejected the Hearing Officer’s proposed adjudication. The Board determined Elder’s explanation of his crime displayed a lack of remorse and acceptance of responsibility, that Elder still lacked the moral turpitude to be a doctor in Pennsylvania, and lacked the educational qualifications. Elder appealed, maintaining the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious in light of the competent, uncontested character evidence and age of the criminal act.

Commonwealth Court agreed with Elder. For the second time in as many months, the Court took a Pennsylvania licensing board out to the wood shed and gave it a stern whipping. The Court emphasized that Boards must look at the age of the crime as it related to current fitness. Remote, past dereliction, must be considered where an agency seeks to revoke a professional license on the basis of a criminal conviction. Secretary of Revenue v. John’s Vending Corporation, 453 Pa. 488, 309 A.2d 358 (1973).

The Court explained that “where the prior convictions do not in anyway reflect upon the [applicant’s] present ability to properly discharge the responsibilities required by the position, we hold that the convictions cannot provide a basis for the revocation of a … license.”

For Elder I determined he must present a clear explanation of the criminal enterprise accompanied by extensive mitigating evidence. The Board was dismissive of Elder’s mitigating evidence, stating that “[r]ather than to take responsibility and express remorse for his criminal misconduct during his testimony, [Elder] attempted to minimize his role.” Elder responded that such did not minimize his criminal conduct but explained his role in the underlying conspiracy, which the Board misconstrued as a collateral attack on his conviction. Elder directs the Court to Nguyen v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, State Board of Cosmetology, 53 A.3d 100 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012).

The Commonwealth Court reviewed the entire record, the Federal Court sentencing transcript, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, and each witness’ testimony of Elder’s character and rehabilitation. The Court emphatically states:

The record does not support the Board’s assertion that Elder failed to express remorse or to take responsibility for his criminal conduct. At the hearing, Elder stated that he was “really” and “deeply” remorseful and he “absolutely accept[s]” responsibility.” He presented witnesses to attest to his remorse. The Board did not explain how this testimony was inadequate or what else Elder could have said. Elder’s attempt to place his criminal conduct into context and explain his role in the conspiracy does not demonstrate a lack of remorse or rehabilitation, as the Board presumed. The Board simply made a subjective determination that was contrary to that of the Hearing Examiner, who directly observed Elder and his witnesses, and accepted his evidence on remorse.

We hold that the Board erred and abused its discretion in reaching the conclusion that Elder does not have the present moral character required for a license. Elder’s crimes were committed over 14 years ago and were isolated to a single episode in his life. He has served his sentence. The Board erred by categorizing Elder’s evidence as not accepting responsibility when he was simply explaining his role in the conspiracy. The Board’s conclusion on Elder’s moral character cannot be reconciled with John’s Vending, 453 Pa. 488, 309 A.2d 358, or Nguyen, 53 A.3d 100. It did not take into account its own findings that Elder’s conduct since 2004 has been not only free of criminal conduct but dedicated to significant volunteer and public service activities.

In reversing the Board and instructing it to grant licensure, the Commonwealth Court determined the Medical Board sanction was a “manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion and purely an arbitrary execution of the agency’s duties or functions.” This is an amazing Commonwealth Court conclusion. Elder disclosed his federal criminal conviction for conspiracy to illegally distribute drugs. Elder set forth his long road to redemption, of rehabilitation, and his true character. The Court, a court of law, not the quasi-legal self-protecting Medical Board, looked at the facts – which mattered — and granted licensure.

Long hard preparation of this case won the day. My methodical approach to making a clear record of personal character recovery, redemption, and rehabilitation, could not be ignored. This cases reveals that proper presentation, preservation of the record, and coordination of witness is paramount to success. Call me to discuss your case.

Northampton County’s 1861 Court Room!!

Finding the diamond in the rough. That describes my recent drive to the Northampton County Courthouse. As my law practice takes me from the Philadelphia’s suburban counties to northeastern Pennsylvania, I routinely travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and its Northeast extension.
The drive this July week was rough. The weather forecast proved accurate; rain and fog through the Lehigh Valley. It was raining so hard, I missed my exit off Rt 476E at Rt 22 E. I drove an additional 20 miles each direction, turning around in Jim Thorpe. (I love the Carbon County Courthouse – see my other blogs – but I was not going there today.)
 I was uncharacteristically late, arriving at 9:25 am for a 9:00 am hearing.  I was otherwise safe.  The judge was extremely gracious and polite. The case was handled quickly.  Opposing counsel – a local assistant district attorney – offered a tour of the courthouse as I expressed my appreciation for our hearing taking place in the old courthouse, courtroom 3, as compared to the new 2004 building.
The county website states, “The original court house was built in  1764. Nearly a century later and after the courthouse had experienced a number of historical events, which included being used as a barracks by Revolutionary troops, a group of citizens petitioned for a new County Courthouse at a different location. On August 23, 1860, the County Commissioners decided to accept land offered at a price of $1.00 that was located several blocks west of the original facility.   A new brick structure was later built on a steep hill at a cost of $53,000. The first term of court was held in the new facility on June 18, 1861.  Since then, two additional wings were constructed to accommodate the growth of Northampton County and satisfy the judicial needs of the expanded population.  The second part of the courthouse was built in 1978 and the third in 2004. “
I was interested in the 1861 building and court room 1.  Finished at the out set of the Civil War.   Wow!! A majestic legal theater, refurbished in 1978 to match the import to the community when the courthouse was built. Original woodwork, plaster, and paint are renewed. County Commissioners rightfully chose to not clutter the court room with of a phalanx of computer cables, microphones, and other modern day accoutrements that clutter some other county courtrooms in which I practice.
The pictures below reveal the courtroom’s grand entrance, judicial bench, and the jury box of the times. The remarkable woodwork and attention to detail immediately reveals itself. The artisans of Pennsylvania’s counties knew their work would be on display at every important and public event of the times. The honor and respect they earned working for their local government on the most important building in the county.

Pennsylvania’s Accepts the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act

Pennsylvania has finalized its membership in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act.  Found at 63 P.S. §395.2, the General Assembly authorizes the Governor to execute the Interstate Compact for Medical Licensure of non-Pennsylvania based physicians.  As I wrote previously last summer, the proposal substantially strips Pennsylvania medical licensees of many due process rights.

Pennsylvania based physicians who seek licensure in member states become subject to those jurisdictions’ criminal and disciplinary process, investigations and actions.  My prior blog addresses the significant pit falls of that process.  Reviewing the definition section of the enabling legislation (which is a nationwide standard set of definitions and procedures) helps understand how and why Commonwealth Pennsylvania physicians seeking multi-state licensure are at substantial exposure to extra jurisdiction disciplinary action without the many protections of Pennsylvania’s administrative due process.

A physician’s medical license, granted by a member state to an eligible physician, is subject to this new law’s legal definitions. First and foremost is the definition of conviction of any type of criminal act. Conviction means: a finding by a court that an individual is guilty of a criminal offense through adjudication, or entry of a plea of guilt or no contest to the charge by the offender. Evidence of an entry of a conviction of a criminal offense by the court shall be considered final for purposes of disciplinary action by a member board.  Potential criminal acts — any “Offense” means: a felony, gross misdemeanor or crime of moral turpitude.

At issue for Pennsylvania and/or New Jersey doctors is the difference in criminal versus administrative matters.  A DUI in Pennsylvania is criminal versus New Jersey it is administrative.  There are many matters in Pennsylvania that result in a summary resolution, not a felony and misdemeanor conviction.  What is a gross misdemeanor?  The Act does not differentiate.  In Pennsylvania, criminal charges are brought after a  preliminary hearing.  Many states proceed by indictment.  The Act does not distinguish enrollment in a non-conviction based diversion program.  How difference states render disciplinary action based upon different standards of conduct (from that of Pennsylvania Medical Board) and resolution – which each member state will now have to unilaterally accept – is significant.

These huge differences apply to all physicians.  Who is a physician.  Physician under the Act means a person who:

1. is a graduate of a medical school accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation or a medical school listed in the International Medical Education Directory or its equivalent;
2. passed each component of the United States Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination within three attempts or any of its predecessor examinations accepted by a state medical board as an equivalent examination for licensure purposes;
3. successfully completed graduate medical education approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education or the American Osteopathic Association;
4. holds specialty certification or a time-unlimited specialty certificate recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association’s Bureau of Osteopathic Specialists;
5. possesses a full and unrestricted license to engage in the practice of medicine issued by a member board;
6. has never been convicted, received adjudication, deferred adjudication, community supervision or deferred disposition for any offense by a court of appropriate jurisdiction;
7. has never held a license authorizing the practice of medicine subjected to discipline by a licensing agency in a state, federal or foreign jurisdiction, excluding an action related to non-payment of fees related to a license;
8. has never had a controlled substance license or permit suspended or revoked by a state or the United States Drug Enforcement Administration; and
9. is not under active investigation by a licensing agency or law enforcement authority in a state, federal or foreign jurisdiction.

 

Licensees must identify a state of primary licensure.  That state will verify eligibility, conduct background checks, and maintain fingerprint and biometric data. However, these investigations and parameters are set through federal regulations, and not individual state law. Expedited licensure issued by the central processing state makes that interstate commission more powerful than the individual primary state. The interstate license is limited to a specific period of time in the same manner as required for the physicians holding a full unrestricted license within that state. And expedited license obtained through the compact shall be terminated if the physician fails to maintain a license in the state of principle licensure for a non-disciplinary reason, without re-designation of a new state or principle licensure.

Because there’s a coordinated information system, Pennsylvania’s law allows member boards to report to the interstate commission any public action or complaints against a licensed physician who has applied to receive the expedited license through the compact. Member boards report disciplinary or investigation information and determine if it is necessary and proper basis for disciplinary action by the interstate commissions. Member boards may report any non-public complaint, disciplinary or investigative information to the commission. Member boards will share complaint or disciplinary information.. This means even the most minimal initial disciplinary investigatory claims, unfounded, without final disciplinary decision, by a member state is automatically reported to the entire commission. Disciplinary action from the commission, not an individual state jurisdiction, could be the basis for disciplinary action. How does the physician defend himself or herself against this.

The Act specifically says “any disciplinary action taken by any member board against a physician license through the compact shall be deemed unprofessional conduct which may be subject to discipline by other member boards, in addition to any violation of the medical practices act or regulations in that state. Such a disciplinary action by one state may be deemed conclusive as to a matter of law in fact, allowing the member jurisdictions to impose the same or less or sanction or pursue a separate disciplinary action against position under its respective medical practices act, regardless of action taken and other member states.

 

Call me about your license application, conditional approvals, of pending discipline.

A Fringe Benefit of Practicing Law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

There are many benefits to being a licensed, practicing lawyer in this country and Commonwealth.  One fringe benefit (and I mean fringe) of practicing law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is driving through and to the counties in this jurisdiction.  Practicing in Delaware, Chester, York, Lebanon, Dauphin, Luzerne, Montgomery, Lackawanna, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Lancaster, Northampton, Monroe, Clearfield, Blair, Center counties, I drive throughout the Commonwealth.  The word Commonwealth does not do justice to the beauty of the counties in which I travel and the courthouse in which I practice.

Monroe County Court House Square

 

One recent cool, spring day I had the pleasure of a relaxing drive from my home in the suburbs of Philadelphia to the Monroe County Courthouse in the quaint hamlet of Strousburg, Pa.  I left my home at 7:00 am.  By 7:45 I entered the Lehigh Valley and was approaching the scenic Delaware River Water Gap area.  I left Philadelphia in a heavy fog, arriving in the Lehigh Valley as the fog began dissipating from the  mountain valleys.   Steamy slopes and long shadows were cast as the sun climbed over the hills and heated the morning sky.  Route 78’s mountain passes were freed from their foggy blanket revealing the height of the tree-topped slops.  What a peaceful ride.  The rich majesty of Penn’s Woods (the translation of the word Pennsylvania) became evident.

The coffee shop on the square at the Monroe County Court House, Strousburg, Pa

Home made scones, croissants, and danish.

Upon arriving in Monroe county and the courthouse square, I had the pleasure of stopping for coffee at the café duet. Pictured above, I partook in a croissant and perfect cappuccino in the a sun-lit square.  I could have been in any hamlet or borough in another country.  I, however had the pleasure of attending to my profession, take care of a valued client, and being given the opportunity to enjoy Monroe County.

In between mentally organizing my case, I day dreamed about the incredible mountain bike riding trails that snaked through the various gorges, streams, and mountain passes. Exercising both my mind and body is a wonderful activity I engage in on a daily basis.  I will be in Center, Blair, and Clearfield counties over the next several weeks.  I will cherish my time and my profession while I enjoy the best the Commonwealth has to offer this summer.

Call me about your legal matter.

Proposed Pennsylvania Law for All Licensee’s Criminal Charge Reporting Responsibilities

In February several Pennsylvania state senators introduced Senate Bill number 354 of 2017. This bill drastically changes licensees reporting responsibilities once they are charged with a crime. Currently, most licensees (Except nurses) must report a criminal charge only upon conviction. Senate Bill 354 as currently written specifically states:

Section 2.1.  Reporting of sanctions and criminal proceedings.

(a)  Duty.–An individual who holds a license, certificate or registration issued by the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs shall, as a condition of licensure, certification or registration, do all of the following:

(1)  Report to the appropriate licensing board or licensing commission a disciplinary action taken against the licensee, certificate holder or registrant by a licensing agency of another jurisdiction.

(2)  Report to the appropriate licensing board or licensing commission an arrest, indictment or conviction of the licensee, certificate holder or registrant.

(b)  Time.–A report under subsection (a) shall be made as follows:

(1)  Within 30 days of the imposition of the sanction described under subsection (a)(1).

(2)  Except as set forth in paragraph (3), within 30 days of the earlier of:

(i)  an arrest under subsection (a)(2); or

(ii)  an indictment under subsection (a)(2).; or

(iii)  a conviction under subsection (a)(2).

(3)  In the case of a criminal action under subsection (a)(2) that is initiated prior to the effective date of this paragraph, within 30 days from the later of:

(i)  the date of conviction; or

(ii)  the effective date of this paragraph.

If a licensee does not report a new arrest within 30 days, the licensee is subject to additional disciplinary action.

All Pennsylvania licensees may soon become subject to disciplinary action as a result of accused, not convicted, criminal conduct.  This is a much different from the current scenario of disciplinary action upon conviction. The remaining subsection identified below is consistent with current procedural due process rights to a licensee whose license is subject to an immediate clear and present danger emergent suspension.

(a)  Temporary suspension.–A licensing board or licensing commission may temporarily suspend a license, certificate or registration under circumstances as determined by the board or commission to be an immediate and clear danger to the public health and safety. The board or commission shall issue an order to that effect without a hearing, but upon due notice, to the licensee or, certificate holder or registrant concerned at his last known address, which shall include a written statement of all allegations against the licensee or, certificate holder or registrant. After issuing the order, the board or commission shall commence formal action to suspend, revoke or restrict the license or, certificate or registration of the person concerned as otherwise provided for by law. All actions shall be taken promptly and without delay.

(b)  Hearing.–Within 30 days following the issuance of an order temporarily suspending a license, certificate or registration, the licensing board or licensing commission shall conduct or cause to be conducted a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case supporting the suspension. The licensee or, certificate holder or registrant whose license or, certificate or registration has been temporarily suspended may be present at the preliminary hearing and may be represented by counsel, cross-examine witnesses, inspect physical evidence, call witnesses, offer evidence and testimony and make a record of the proceedings. If it is determined that there is not a prima facie case, the suspended license, certificate or registration shall be immediately restored. The temporary suspension shall remain in effect until vacated by the board or commission, but in no event longer than 180 days.

(c)  Automatic suspension.–A license or, certificate or registration issued by a licensing board or licensing commission shall automatically be suspended upon:

(1)  the legal commitment to an institution of a licensee or, certificate holder or registrant because of mental incompetency for any cause upon filing with the board or commission a certified copy of the commitment; or

(2)  conviction of a felony under the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, or conviction of an offense under the laws of another jurisdiction which, if committed in this Commonwealth, would be a felony under The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act.

(d)  Stay.–Automatic suspension under subsection (c) shall not be stayed pending an appeal of a conviction.

(e)  Restoration.–Restoration of a license or, certificate or registration shall be made as provided by law in the case of revocation or suspension of the license or, certificate or registration.

New to the licensing and regulatory scheme for every licensee is the ability of a licensing board to automatically suspend a license if the licensee is committed to a mental health facility for any reason or a conviction under the Drug Act. Restoration of the licensees license suspended under Senate Bill 354 shall be consistent with any other procedural due process rights.
Please call me to discuss your case

Pennsylvania’s New DUI Case Law

Since Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S.Ct. 2160, 195 L. Ed. 2d 560 (2016), Pennsylvania’s DUI statute as applied to blood draws and refusals to submit to blood draws has because unenforceable.  The illegal escalation of criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a blood draw, or even being told of the enhanced penalties, has created an untenable situation for every police department in the Commonwealth.  They are still doing it wrong. Do not plead guilty.  Fight these cases.

Some departments are still reading the old refusal warnings.  Some are still taking people to the hospital when a simple breath test will work.  Some are making up new refusal warnings.  Some are trying to get people to freely consent to a blood draw without telling them of the consequences.  These, I think are all illegal procedures.  The cases are coming down every week limiting how the Commonwealth can gather evidence and what evidence can be used to prosecute the cases under the post-Birchfield paradigm.

It is the Commonwealth’s burden of proof to establish a DUI suspect’s consent to give blood is the product of essentially free and unconstrained choice—not the result of duress, coercion, expressed or applied. Commonwealth v. Gaetano, 2017 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1241 (April 4, 2017); Commonwealth v. Evans, 153 A.3d 323, 2016 PA Super 293 (Pa. Super. filed December 20, 2016). The standard for measuring the scope of a person’s consent is based upon an objective evaluation of what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the officer and the person who gave such consent.

Gaetano and Evans  in applying Birchfield hold that the Commonwealth may not impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to a warrantless blood test.  Reading a person the now illegal O’Connell warning’s, or any other fabricated, constructed, newly designed version thereof, threat of enhanced criminal prosecution and incarceration vitiate consensual submission to a blood draw absent a warrant. Gaetano and Evans state it is the Commonwealth’s burden of proof to establish that a defendant’s consent is freely given and not the product of coercion.

It is not the a defendant’s burden of proof to establish or place in the record his subjective feelings of coercion. Commonwealth v. Fink, 2016 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 4704, *13 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2016).  The mere language of the O’Connell warning, or any other fabricated, constructed, newly designed version thereof, include a threat of enhanced criminal prosecution are coercive and the Commonwealth cannot establish coercive free consent.   Objective evidence of duress that is the basis for Gaetano and Evans will be present in almost every defendant’s arrest record, thus vitiating alleged voluntary consent to give blood draw.

Upon deciding a Motion to Suppress the blood evidence, trial courts cannot, and it is irrelevant to the constitutional evaluation under the Supreme Court precedent, put the burden on the defendant, as to what their objective state of mind was upon giving consent for a blood draw.

As for the specific refusal statute, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1547, Superior Court has concluded that it or police departments newly fabricated, constructed threat of enhanced criminal prosecution vitiates any consent given to a warrantless blood draw.  Gaetano and Evans maintain that subjecting defendants to warrantless blood draws based upon the illegal O’Connell warning consent provisions (or any other fabricated, constructed, newly designed but improper version thereof, threat of enhanced criminal prosecution) is illegal and unconstitutional under US Supreme Court and Pennsylvania appellate court jurisprudence.

In looking at the totality of the circumstances the court must determine that any consent is not voluntary and coerced. Birchfield’s review of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on blood testing compels a review of Missouri v. McNeely, 566 U.S ___ (2012),  where the Court refused to adopt a per se rule that “whenever an officer has probable cause to believe that an individual has been driving under the influence of alcohol, circumstances will necessary exist because blood alcohol content evidence is inheritably evanescent.”  Id. at ____, (slip op., at 8).

McNeely is applicable in Pennsylvania DUI cases because officers in drunk-driving investigations can reasonably obtain a warrant before having a blood sample drawn without significantly undermining the efficacy of the search.  The Fourth Amendment mandates that they do so.  They are no doing so.  The court has held that it is not enough to claim that “circumstances may make obtaining a warrant impractical such that the alcohol’s dissipation will support an exigency.” This is to be decided in each case on its facts.  The Court did not create a general rule based upon “considerable over generalization” that a per se rule would reflect.

Pennsylvania has said the same thing.  “The Fourth Amendment to the [United States] Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of [the Pennsylvania] Constitution protects Pennsylvania’s citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.” Commonwealth v. McAdoo, 2012 PA Super 118, 46 A.3d 781, 784 (Pa. Super. 2012). “A search conducted without a warrant is deemed to be unreasonable and therefore constitutionally impermissible, unless an established exception applies.” Commonwealth v. Strickler, 563 Pa. 47, 757 A.2d 884, 888 (Pa. 2000).  “Exceptions to the warrant requirement include the consent exception, the plain view exception, the inventory search exception, the exigent circumstances exception, the automobile exception . . . , the stop and frisk exception, and the search incident to arrest exception.” Commonwealth v. Dunnavant, 2013 PA Super 38, 63 A.3d 1252, 1257 n.3 (Pa. Super. 2013).

As for blood, the “administration of a blood test . . . performed by an agent of, or at the direction of the government” constitutes a search under both the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. Commonwealth v. Kohl, 532 Pa. 152, 615 A.2d 308, 315 (Pa. 1992); Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 770, 86 S. Ct. 1826, 16 L. Ed. 2d 908 (1966).  Since the DUI blood tests are typically performed without a warrant, the search is preemptively unreasonable “and therefore constitutionally impermissible, unless an established exception applies.”

In determining the validity of a given consent, the Commonwealth bears the burden of establishing that a consent is the product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice — not the result of duress or coercion, express or implied, or a will overborne — under the totality of the circumstances.  The standard for measuring the scope of a person’s consent is based on an objective evaluation of what a reasonable person would have understood by the exchange between the officer and the person who gave the consent.  Such evaluation includes an objective examination of the maturity, sophistication and mental or emotional state of the defendant. Gauging the scope of a defendant’s consent is an inherent and necessary part of the process of determining, on the totality of the circumstances presented, whether the consent is objectively valid, or instead the product of coercion, deceit, or misrepresentation.  Commonwealth v. Smith, 621 Pa. 218, 77 A.3d 562, 573 (Pa. 2013) (internal citations, quotations, and corrections omitted).

I think the DUI case law requires that the police tell the arrestee of the consequences of a refusal to take the test so that he can make a knowing and conscious choice.  When requested to take a breathalyzer or blood test, the court insists that in addition to telling an arrestee that his license will be suspended for one year if he refuses to take a breathalyzer test, the police instruct the arrestee that such rights are inapplicable to the breathalyzer test and that the arrestee does not have the right to consult with an attorney or anyone else prior to taking the test. An arrestee is entitled to this information so that his choice to take a breathalyzer test can be knowing and conscious and we believe that requiring the police to qualify the extent of the right to counsel is neither onerous nor will it unnecessarily delay the taking of the test.  Commonwealth v. O’Connell, 521 Pa. 242, 555 A.2d 873 (1989).

In many cases, the police claim a defendant allegedly consents to the warrantless blood draw during a custodial interrogation after the police inform him of some fabricated, constructed, newly designed informed consent language not court or legislatively approved. This is not proper.  Currently, the only available law requires the police to advise a defendant that: “if you refuse to submit to chemical test and you are convicted or plead to violating § 3802(a)(1) related to impaired driving under the vehicle code, because of your refusal, you will be subject to more severe penalties set forth in § 3804(c)[,] relating to penalties, the same as if you were — if you would be convicted at the highest rate of alcohol.”

This makes the verbal consent to a warrantless blood draw  during a non-mirandized, custodial interrogation in illegal statement subject to suppression.  Absent verbal consent, there is none.  Further, since Birchfield held that  a state may not “impose criminal penalties on the refusal to submit to [a warrantless blood] test,” the police officer’s advisory to any defendant on the non-legislatively permitted language illegal. Birchfield, 136 S.Ct. at 2186. This then requires a court to conclude that the search incident to arrest doctrine does not justify  warrantless blood testing compelled through enhanced criminal sentencing provisions for refusing to take that blood test.  This in turn means that the enhanced criminal offense, both in charges filed and potential sentencing scheme set forth in 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 3802(b)(1)(2), compels this County Courts of Common Pleas to hold that “motorists cannot be deemed to of consent to submit to a blood test on fate of committing a criminal offense.”

Call me to discuss you DUI and blood draw evidence.

Professional License Indefinite Suspensions for Missing the Mental and Physical Evaluation

Board authority to  compel a mental and physical examination(“MPE”)  is pursuant to 63 P. S. § 2205(D)(1).  The purpose of the evaluation is to determine whether, under 63 P. S. 224(a)(2) for nurses, a licensee is unable to practice their profession with reasonable skill and safety by reason of mental or physical illness or condition or psychological or physiological dependence on alcohol, hallucinogenic on narcotic or other drugs that impair judgment and coordination.  Similar impairment evaluation provisions are contained in each of the twenty six different Pennsylvania licensing schemes.

A formal board order compelling attendance always accompanies these Petitions.  The Board signs the order to compel both attendance and compliance with document production requirements.  Typically, these petitions are filed, licensees show up at the expert’s office for the examination compliant with the terms and conditions of the MPE order.  It is the unique case where a licensee does not show up and their license is summarily suspended.

License suspension is based upon the Pennsylvania Code provisions that states,  if a licensee fails to attend the MPE,  the allegations of impairment are deemed true.  The admissions of fact and law allow the Board to conclude impairment and formal suspension is ordered.   License reinstatement after this step requires attending a PHMP expert evaluation (at the licensee’s expense) and complying with all other aspects of the suspension order.
Why or how would a licensee not go to the Mental and Physical Evaluation?  Failure to maintain an up-to-date address with one’s Pennsylvania licensing board, resulting in missed notices is the first way. Secondly, thinking these appointments can be unilaterally changed or failing to properly communicate scheduling conflicts create huge problems.  Minor inconveniences though do not warrant not attending the procedure.  The last way is the simplest; a licensee simply does not attend the evaluation for fear of the result.
Case law discussing these provisions specifically requires proper Board notification of the MPE and suspension to the licensee’s address of record.  The address on record is the address to which the Board is required to provide notice of a disciplinary action in order to honor its constitutional due process obligations.  The Board only needs to provide proof of service via regular and certified mail.  It is licensees burden to attend or reschedule the evaluation.
Why do licensees have to go to these evaluations?  Section 224(a)(2) of the Nursing law, for example, is the standard provision in every regulatory board scheme.  Board prosecutors receive information suggesting an impairment.   In seeking licensure, licensees agree to be regulated by the State.  Licensees agree to honor the provisions of Pennsylvania code and case law interpreting the code.

The MPE is just such a provision in an over arching regulatory scheme the Commonwealth has erected to protect its citizens from errant and high licensees (realtors, doctors, pharmacists, nurses and the like).  My blogs deal with my role in preparing each licensee for the MPE. However, I cannot accept mail for each licensee. Once we are retained, I am able to re-scheduled the MPE with consent of either the doctor, Board counsel or prosecuting counsel.  This allows me time to assist the licensee organize their documents and prepare for this expert examination.  I cannot receive the mail.

The consequence on the licensee of not attending the evaluation is significant. While not immediate, eventual license suspension for failure to honor a Board order will occur. Reinstatement will only take place upon attendance of that MPE.  Additional requirements include providing a criminal background check, proof of compliance with all continuing education burdens, proof of no practice during the term of suspension, and payment of investigatory costs.
As well, included in the typical MPE order is the Board paying for the evaluation.  Once a licensee refuses or fails to attend the MPE, the MPE expert evaluation expense must be borne by the licensees.   Please call me to discuss your recent mail compelling you to attend a mental and physical examination.or suspending your license for missing one.

Pennsylvania’s Stregthening Disciplinary Enforcement Environment

My law practice focuses on defending professional licensee disciplinary actions based upon criminal convictions, professional competence, and/or drug and alcohol addiction and professional impairment. I write blogs about Pennsylvania professional licensing disciplinary actions.  Recently, I reviewed all of Pennsylvania’s licensing board disciplinary actions for October and November of 2016. My case load is consistent with the disciplinary orders I reviewed; the cases reflect a stiffening enforcement environment for each of Pennsylvania’s 29 licensing boards.

In November 2016 Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs’ 29 professional licensing boards entered 135 different disciplinary orders.  Board orders range from accountancy, real estate, architecture, chiropractic, massage therapy, nursing, the numerous medical fields, social workers, to veterinary medicine. Of the 135 actions, 41 or 30% of the prosecutions were against non-Pennsylvania practicing licensees. Of the remaining 94 actions (70%), 30 cases or 31% were taken against licensees in Philadelphia and its five surrounding counties. The October 2016 statistics are about the same.

The consistency in the prosecutions is staggering. Many licensees are not represented by counsel. Many orders or settlements include significant civil penalty fines. In the dental profession, there is an increase in petitions for immediate temporary suspensions, pending hearings, on the grounds that the licensee’s practice constitute an immediate and clear danger to the public health and safety. Throughout the medical professions, including pharmacy, numerous disciplinary actions are based upon misdemeanor or felony Drug Act convictions.  Accountancy and real estate board prosecutions center on fraud issues.  The statistics suggest one main point; over 60 percent of cases are from the Philadelphia area and out of state but all of which prosecutions are based upon criminal convictions or drug impairment issues.  These types of disciplinary cases can be fought and penalties reduced.  Many licensees do not think so and either do not have any counsel or they hire the wrong, incompetent counsel.  This is a mistake.

A significant aspect of my practice is reflected in the disciplinary orders. Whether a medical doctor, osteopathic doctor, or nurse, almost one half of disciplinary actions are based upon allegations of inability to practice a profession with reasonable skill and safety to patients by reasons of a mental or physical illness or condition stemming from a dependence upon alcohol or drugs that impairs judgment or coordination. Fighting these cases and contesting any allegation of drug or alcohol impairment is mandatory to keep your license.  DO NOT TAKE THESE ALLEGATIONS LIGHTLY.  DO NOT GO TO THESE ASSESSMENTS WITH OUT AN ATTORNEY.  See my other blogs on this issue.  The orders of discipline clearly reflect licensees incompetently fighting their case without counsel.  I have written extensive blogs on the importance of having an attorney.

A significant percentage of enforcement actions are based upon in or out-of state guilty pleas to either misdemeanors or felonies under the Drug Act or felonies (typically sexual assault) involved in the professional practice. The Boards are collaterally prosecuting every licensee convicted of any offense involving drugs, the violations of norms of practice of that specific profession, or crimes of moral turpitude. The criminal offense, whether drugs, DUI, or a practice related sexual offense does not have to occur in Pennsylvania. Having the right criminal attorney fighting the underlying criminal prosecution is paramount to avoiding collateral licensing prosecution.  I handle all of these criminal cases in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Call me to discuss the underlying criminal charges.

Out-of-state licensee’s disciplinary actions reveal a pattern of significantly harsher disciplinary outcomes. Apparently many of these licensees’ indefinite or automatic suspensions are based upon decisions to not contest the Pennsylvania disciplinary action or licensees fighting their case without counsel. Either choice is the worst possible way to address a Pennsylvania based disciplinary action. Every out-of-state licensee should fight each and every disciplinary action.

Please call me to discuss the heightened enforcement environment in Pennsylvania and your pending disciplinary action. Do not attempt to handle these cases on your own. Pennsylvania’s licensing board prosecuting attorneys are much more familiar with appropriate potential negotiating positions then the licensee. The number of professionals I represent before the various boards, and my current pending case load with the same prosecutor on your case, uniquely positions me to fight your case.

Pennsylvania Drug Act Charges — Doctors and Nurses — Reputation

My last blog focused on physicians’ criminal Drug Act conduct and reporting responsibilities to the Medical Board.  Whether a physician or professional nurse, the typical triggering event requiring reporting to a professional license board is a charge or conviction for violating Pennsylvania’s Drug Act.  Aside from license impacts, the evidentiary important of such a charge or conviction is profound.

There is a string of cases in Pennsylvania that identify a Drug Act offense as a crime of moral turpitude and crimen falsii.  What are these characterizations and import on your license defense shall be addressed in this blog.

The esteemed Leonard Packel and Anne Poulin, wrote the book Pennsylvania Evidence § 609 (1987 and Supp. 1994).   At the time of publication, the book did not contain drug violations in either category.  In Commonwealth v. Candia, 286 Pa.Super. 282, 428 A.2d 993 (1981), Pa Superior Court stated that Drug Act offenses were not crimen falsi.

There are several federal decisions, one in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Hayes, 553 F.2d 824 (1977), where the court held that importation of cocaine was not clearly crimen falsi, but could be if the particular facts demonstrated that the importation involved false written or oral statements on customs forms.  That court weighed the effect on credibility of various drug violations, stating smuggling “ranks relatively high on the scale of veracity-related crimes, but that mere narcotics possession would be less highly ranked on that same scale.

That court stated impeachment use of a conviction involving dishonesty or false statement refers to allegations particularly focusing on credibility issues, such as those for ‘perjury or subornation of perjury, false statement, criminal fraud, embezzlement, or false pretense.  Each of these cases involves the commission of acts which involve a basic intent element of deceit, untruthfulness, or falsification bearing on the accused’s propensity to testify truthfully.

Pennsylvania has determined a similar list of crimes to constitute crimen falsi.  Included in this list, a recent Superior court decision holds, is writing prescriptions for a controlled substance to oneself, knowing one has a chemical dependency problem. The crime itself involves making a false statement because it necessarily involves the falsification of a prescription by a practitioner representing that it is not for a person who is chemically dependent.  As such, Drug Act prescription violations constitute crimes of crimen falsi and, thus, a crime of moral turpitude.

The import of these cases can not be understated.  The Board will look at any Drug Act conviction as a crime of moral turpitude because it relates in many different ways to the securing, utilizing, or possessing an illegal controlled substance.  Whether such is in the course of the practice or in one private life, a Drug Act violation therefore also becomes a “conduct unbecoming” violation.

Separate and aside from these issues, are the mandatory suspensions of any Drug Act conviction.  Call me to discuss your case.

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