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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Expanded Psychology Board Disciplinary Authority

On June 23, 2016 the General assembly approved act 2016–53. This is a new provision in the the Psychology Board Act.  It became effective August 23, 2016.  This an amendment to the Psychology Board’s authority in disciplining it’s licensees. The specific section in bold states:

(b) When the board finds that the license or application for license of any person may be refused, revoked, restricted or suspended under the terms of subsection (a), the board may:

(1) Deny the application for a license.

(2) Administer a public reprimand.

(3) Revoke, suspend, limit or otherwise restrict a license as determined by the board.

(4) Require a licensee to submit to the care, counseling or treatment of a physician or a psychologist designated by the board.

(5) Suspend enforcement of its findings thereof and place a licensee on probation with the right to vacate the probationary order for noncompliance.

(6) Restore a suspended license to practice psychology and impose any disciplinary or corrective measure which it might originally have imposed.

(7) Take other action as the board in the board’s discretion considers proper, including precluding a suspended licensee from engaging in counseling or any other form of mental health practice.

The import of the new (b)(7) provision cannot be under stated. The legislature has given the Board authority to take “other action” within the “Board’s discretion it considers proper”. This is just about anything.  The case law discussing licensing boards authority to discipline their licensees is clear.

Appellate review of a discretionary Board action is limited to determining whether constitutional rights have been violated, an error of law committed, or necessary findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence. 2 Pa.C.S. § 704; Cassella v. Pennsylvania Board of Medicine, Bureau of Professions and Occupations, 119 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 394, 547 A.2d 506 (1988); DePanfilis v. State Board of Pharmacy, 121 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 526, 551 A.2d 344 (1988). The State Board of Nursing is the ultimate fact finder and may accept or reject the testimony of any witness in whole or in part.

The proper review of an agency’s action, assuming that it is not defective under the self-explanatory requirements of § 704 of the Administrative Agency Law, 2 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 704, is not whether its order was reasonable, but whether it was made in accordance with law, i.e., whether it was made in bad faith, and whether it was fraudulent or capricious. A reviewing court may interfere in an agency decision only when there has been a manifest and flagrant abuse of discretion or a purely arbitrary execution of the agency’s duties or functions. Slawek v. Commonwealth, State Bd. of Med. Educ. & Licensure, 526 Pa. 316, 318, 586 A.2d 362, 363 (1991).

Where a full and complete record is made of the proceedings before the State Board of Nursing, a reviewing court must affirm the adjudication unless it is in violation of the constitutional rights of the appellant or not in accordance with the law, the procedural provisions of the local agency law are violated, or a finding of fact of the State Board of Nursing necessary to support its adjudication is not supported by substantial evidence. Section 754 of the Administrative Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 754. The emphasis here is that is a full and complete record is a necessity.

Substantial evidence means that the evidence required to support the finding of an administrative agency must be “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion.”  Civil Service Com. V. Poles, 132 Pa. Commw. 593, 573 A.2d 1169, 1172 (1990); Gallagher v. Philadelphia State Board of Pharmacy, 16 Pa. Commw. 279, 330 A.2d 287, 289 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1974).

It is imperative that counsel is present at any hearing to insure the trial evidence objections are properly set forth int he record.  In many cases, Board discretionary action can only be limited by insuring the evidence at the hearing is minimized against the licensee.  Or on Appeal, reviewing the record, to insure the Board decision is made in accordance with the facts presented at the hearing. Any decision based on facts outside of the record is not proper. Please call to discuss you psychology license disciplinary issues.

 

 

Pennsylvania’s New Physician Licensing Compact

In November of 2015 I blogged about the proposed version of Pennsylvania’s Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act.  One year later, effective October 26, 2016, the Act has become Law. What does this mean for Pennsylvania’s physicians?

The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Act (the “Act”) only applies to “Physician”, 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.

Upon receipt of an application for an expedited license, the member board within the state selected as the state of principal license shall evaluate whether the physician is eligible for expedited licensure and issue a letter of qualification, verifying or denying the physician’s eligibility to the interstate commission. The following shall apply:
1. Static qualifications, which include verification of medical education, graduate medical education, results of any medical or licensing examination, and other qualifications as determined by the interstate commission through rule, shall not be subject to additional primary source verification where already primary source verified by the state of principal license.
2. The member board within the state selected as the state of principal license shall, in the course of verifying eligibility, perform a criminal background check of an applicant, including the use of the results of fingerprint or other biometric data checks compliant with the requirements of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the exception of federal employees who have suitability determination in accordance with 5 C.F.R. § 731.202 (relating to criteria for making suitability determinations).
3. Appeal on the determination of eligibility shall be made to the member state where the application was filed and shall be subject to the law of that state.

 

An important part of the Act is the joint investigation and disciplinary process. The law as enacted states:

ARTICLE IX JOINT INVESTIGATIONS
A. Licensure and disciplinary records of physicians are deemed investigative.
B. In addition to the authority granted to a member board by its respective Medical Practice Act or other applicable state law, a member board may participate with other member boards in joint investigations of physicians licensed by the member boards.
C. A subpoena issued by a member state shall be enforceable in other member states.
D. Member boards may share any investigative, litigation or compliance materials in furtherance of any joint or individual investigation initiated under the compact.
E. Any member state may investigate actual or alleged violations of the statutes authorizing the practice of medicine in any other member state in which a physician holds a license to practice medicine.
ARTICLE X DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS
A. Any disciplinary action taken by any member board against a physician licensed 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 Practice Act or regulations in that state.
B. If a license granted to a physician by the member board in the state of principal license is revoked, surrendered or relinquished in lieu of discipline, or suspended, then all licenses issued to the physician by member boards shall automatically be placed, without further action necessary by any member board, on the same status. If the member board in the state of principal license subsequently reinstates the physician’s license, a license issued to the physician by any other member board shall remain encumbered until that
respective member board takes action to reinstate the license in a manner consistent with the Medical Practice Act of that state.
C. If disciplinary action is taken against a physician by a member board not in the state of principal license, any other member board may deem the action conclusive as to matter of law and fact decided, and:
1. impose the same or lesser sanction(s) against the physician so long as such sanctions are consistent with the Medical Practice Act of that state; or
2. pursue separate disciplinary action against the physician under its respective Medical Practice Act regardless of the action taken in other member states.
D. If a license granted to a physician by a member board is revoked, surrendered or relinquished in lieu of discipline, or suspended, then any license(s) issued to the physician by any other member board(s) shall be suspended, automatically and immediately without further action necessary by the other member board(s), for ninety (90) days upon entry of the order by the disciplining board, to permit the member board(s) to
investigate the basis for the action under the Medical Practice Act of that state. A member board may terminate the automatic suspension of the license it issued prior to the completion of the ninety (90) day suspension period in a manner consistent with the Medical Practice Act of that state.

Any disciplinary action taken by the physician’s principle licensing board (their home state) shall, under House Bill 1619 of 2015, be deemed unprofessional conduct subject to discipline by other member boards in addition to any violation of the Medical Practices Act or regulations of the principle state. Revocation, suspension, or surrender of a license in lieu of discipline or suspension shall cause the physician’s license to suffer similar status by each and every member board to which that physician is licensed.

Conversely, however, any reinstatement of the physician’s license by his principal state medical board shall not affect the encumbered status of that physician’s license in other member states unless and until each member state takes individual action to reinstate my license. This provision allows each member board to conduct the practice of their medical board license disciplinary action independent of the Act. This process is different the current due process rules that require each state’s discipline of a multiple state licensed professional to be independent of, and not link to, any prior state’s discipline.

Any discipline action taken by the physician by a member board, not the principal license board, may be used by other member boards as a conclusive disciplinary action warranting imposition of the same or less or sanction or a separate disciplinary action by other member boards. As well, any license investigation by a member board that becomes the subject revocation, surrender or relinquishment in lieu of discipline shall cause the physician’s license to suffer the same consequences without any further action in each other member board without the subject to any disciplinary investigation. The physician truly becomes hostage to the initiating state’s disciplinary process and must fight it to the death so as to avoid any automatic domino effect.

The Act seeks to balance the states’ citizens’ need for medical care, a nation’s policy interest in granting access to high quality medical care to all citizens, and a physician’s ability to provide competent medical service regardless of artificial state borders against patient safety and criminally active doctors. The primary concern of the Act is who will become the disciplinary supervisor of doctors practicing throughout the country under the Act. While this is a serious and weighty issue, the Act in its current form fails to safeguard the medical license of Pennsylvania’s many doctors who will choose it as their primary state of licensure.

Pennsylvania’s medical schools have produced thousands of doctors over the years. Many secure initial graduate school training licenses and stay in the Commonwealth after residency to care for Pennsylvania’s residents. Many choose Pennsylvania as a home. The Act as drafted in House 1619 of 2015 will discourage this.

Physicians who seek to practice medicine in multiple states through the Act will sacrifice a significant degree of due process if any disciplinary investigation is commenced or levied against them. While there is significant financial interest to provide internet-based face time oriented medical practice across state borders without driving distances, to save lives, the inevitable due process concerns are significant. Exploding populations are overrunning medical investigatory boards with rampant anonymous complaints that will warrant investigation.

Every day baseless complaints of Medicare Medicaid insurance fraud, pill mills, sexual assaults, or drug theft and diversion are generated from specious reporters who are either aggrieved patients, angry disgruntled business partners, jealous or angry co-employees, or scorned lovers. House Bill 1619 of 2015 exposes Pennsylvania’s principle-based medical practitioners to unilateral concurrent disciplinary process of member states without the ability to respond, investigate, or even defend oneself in a court of law. Member state’s unilateral actions will automatically trickle back to the physician’s primary licensure state, causing potentially automatic disciplinary action there. The Act as written is not in the interest of Pennsylvania medical community.

Hearsay, The Pharmacy Board, and Due Process

A recent client sought reinstatement of her pharmacy license after a period of suspension for failing out of the SARPH, Pennsylvania pharmacists’ drug monitoring program. The Pharmacy Board rejected her petition. I represented the pharmacist only in her appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

Prior counsel cost her her license and Markowitz did not utilize an attorney during her petition for reinstatement process, including the hearing before the Pharmacy Board.  She represented herself very poorly at that hearing.  As a result, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the Pharmacy Board’s denial of reinstatement. Carol Markowitz should have won her appeal because at the Pharmacy Board hearing the Board accepted inadmissible expert report evidence that tainted the Board’s consideration of the case.  Markowitz v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, State Bd. of Pharm., 2016 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 594, at *16 (Commw. Ct. Aug. 25, 2016).

With every SARPH or PHMP approved monitoring program, following all terms and conditions of the case worker’s demands establishes compliance with a professional board order. Lack of compliance results in prosecutors filing motion to kick licensees out of the monitoring programs and retroactively suspend their license. Thereafter, before reinstatement should be sought and can be approved by the board, licensees must prove compliance with the terms and conditions of the monitoring program as mandated by the disciplinary order suspending the license.

In  Markowitz’ circumstance, she remained drug-free, did not work, and was otherwise compliant with all terms and conditions of the SARPH program. However, during the term of her suspension, she was not enrolled in the SARPH. No SARPH case worker appeared for her at her petition for reinstatement, did not approve of her medications, and did not perform the perfunctory supervised tests to confirm her  drug-free condition.

As part of the reinstatement process, Markowitz contacted SARPH, which sent her to a fitness to return to work evaluation by Drs. Heran and Garbely. These two doctors wrote a report, which the Board utilized against Markowtiz.  Neither appeared nor and testified at the reinstatement hearing.  The prosecutor moved Drs. Heran and Garbely‘s unqualified experts report into evidence.  The Board relied upon these two individuals’ hearsay report to find Markowitz was not eligible for reinstatement.
On appeal Markowitz complained about the Board’s due process violation in considering the expert reports for which Markowitz was unable to cross examine and question the author(s) of the report. Markowitz also complained about Drs. Heran and Garbely’s competence, prior histories of license suspensions, and their own drug addiction issues that ultimately lead to their becoming drug counselors and experts.

“Hearsay is defined as an out-of-court statement, either oral or written, offered in court for the purpose of proving the truth of the matter contained in the statement.” Bailey v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 142 Pa. Commw. 294, 597 A.2d 241, 243 n. 3 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1991). “Hearsay evidence, [p]roperly objected to, is not competent evidence to support a finding[ ],” but “[h]earsay evidence, [a]dmitted without objection, will be given its natural probative effect and may support a finding[ ], [i]f it is corroborated by any competent evidence in the record….” Walker v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 27 Pa. Commw. 522, 367 A.2d 366, 370 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1976). “[A] finding of fact based [s]olely on hearsay will not stand.” Id.

Surprisingly, the Court ruled “It is clear that the joint report is hearsay and not corroborated by other evidence of record. We agree with Markowitz that the report of Drs. Heran and Garbely should not have been considered by the Pharmacy Board.”  Markowitz v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, State Bd. of Pharm., 2016 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 594, at *16 (Commw. Ct. Aug. 25, 2016).

Please call me to discuss your contact with these two doctors, their handling of your licensing case, and any case in which they were involved.

Professional Licensing Board’s Discretion and Appellate Case Review

The discretionary decision making process of Pennsylvania’s twenty six professional boards is a huge appellate issue many cases confront.  In a recent case, board discretion is discussed in the context of non-criminal conduct and the Medical Board’s authority to police its own licensees.  The case is Mosuro v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, 2016 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 717 (Commw. Ct. Oct. 13, 2016).

Dr. Mosuro was disciplined in the state of Texas as a result of a medical relationship with a pain management clinic.  Dr. Mosuro was compensated by the owner of the clinic, an Advanced Practical Nurse (“APN”) licensed under Texas law, with a flat fee for each prescription he wrote for a clinic patient. In turn, the APN referred patients to Dr. Mosuro for other treatment.  Upon being investigated by the Texas Medical Board, but with no criminal charges being filed, the doctor enter into a consent agreement acknowledging violations State of Texas  Medical Board laws, rules, codes, and regulations due to his failure to supervise the APN and allowed her to prescribe medications that were non-therapeutic while acting under his prescriptive delegation. Charts were also not adequately documented and prescriptions were not supported by objective medical findings and data.  In sum, he allow his prescriptions to be used in a pill mill.

The Texas Board of Medicine issue the public reprimand and a $10,000 fine. He was also given a prescription prohibition on ordering, prescribing, or dispensing scheduled medication services.  The licensing authorities of Maryland, Tennessee, Alabama, and Virginia imposed similar discipline on Dr. Mosuro ‘s license.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania commenced disciplinary proceedings based upon Texas’ disciplinary action, accusing the doctor under 63 P. S. § 422.41 of improper prescribing of controlled substance through his involvement with the pill mill and his failure to properly supervise a nurse practitioner as required under Texas law. Standard of care violations, documentation of medical record violations, and unprofessional conduct were perceived by the Pennsylvania Medical Board as very serious.

After hearing in Pennsylvania, the hearing examiner proposed an Order and Adjudication of a $500 civil penalty and indefinitely suspended Doctor Mosuro license to practice medicine in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Upon review, the Pennsylvania Medical Board excepted the hearing examiner’s Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law but rejected the recommended order. Rather, the Medical Board ordered a public reprimand on Dr. Mosuro ‘s permanent licensing record, a $5000 civil penalty, and an indefinite suspension of his license to practice medicine and surgery in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Reinstatement may be sought upon compliance with the Texas Board order and his Texas medical license being reinstated to unrestricted status.  This totaled over $15,000 in fine for a doctor unable to practice medicine.  This Board issued this order even though Dr. Mosuro did not have an active Pennsylvania medical license, was not practicing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and was disciplined by many other jurisdictions as a result of the same conduct.  PENNSYLVANIA’S DISCIPLINE WAS THE HARSHEST OF ALL JURISDICTIONS.
Dr. Mosuro appealed to the Commonwealth Court.  The scope of the Commonwealth Court appeal is limited to determining whether the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence and whether the board committed errors of law or constitutional violations.” Blair v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, State Bd. of Nursing, 72 A.3d 742, 750 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2013).  In review of the record, the appellate court concludes  the Medical Board’s extensive discipline based solely upon the opioid prescription drug abuse crisis is proper. The Board restates with approval the Pennsylvania Medical Board citation to recent Pennsylvania legislative findings regarding human suffering associated with addiction and how its epidemic has reached families throughout the Commonwealth.
The Medical Board and the Commonwealth Court use this case as a example of how to ensure public safety from medical practitioners who use their medical licenses to create “rogue pain management clinics” in Pennsylvania. Citing statistics that Pennsylvania ranks seventh in the nation for drug overdoses from prescription pain killers and the role of pill mills in the overdose epidemic, the Court approves the Medical Board utilizing these facts to “engage in its purpose under the medical practices act of safe guarding the public health and welfare”.

The Court did not address the Board’s role of insuring individual penalties to individual licensees be based upon their case facts. The Court affirms Board citation to broad policy language that the prescription overdose epidemic cannot be ignored. The Commonwealth Court concludes that when as now there is a “current threat to public health and welfare when assessing whether a Board carries out its statutory mandate in a purely arbitrary and capricious manner”, the Medical Board is properly carrying out its broader policy mandate of stopping pill mills during this great opioid epidemic.  Such is sufficient factual and legal reasoning to discipline even an in-active medical licensee.

 The Commonwealth Court limited its inquiry into the “wisdom of the board,” not reviewing the administrative decision of the Medical Board with an eye towards substituting it’s judgment of what is reasonable for that of the agency whose decision is being reviewed. The court let stand the Pennsylvania Medical Board’s perceptions of the seriousness of the doctor’s Texas discipline, how such is also a violation of Pennsylvania’s medical licensing scheme, and the Board’s broad policy reasons for its discipline.
In sum, Commonwealth Court concludes that “the board did not abuse its discretion by taking strong action to protect the safety and welfare of citizens by suspending Dr. Mosuro’s license instead of imposing conditions on his license similar to those of the Texas Board.” Dr. Mosuro’s violation is very serious. In determining that the Board did not abuse its discretion, the Court states “even if we disagreed with the severity of the sanction and thought the Texas Board’s decision was more appropriate, the sanction must be upheld because proper review is not whether it’s order is reasonable, but whether it was made in accordance with law.”  Facilitating and conspiring to engage in operation of a “pill mill”, the Court and the Medical Board conclude, is not in accordance with law and, therefore, the suspension of the medical license is within the confines of the Board’s regulatory authority.

Call me to discuss your out of state disciplinary action and Pennsylvania’s pending disciplinary action.

Felony Convictions — Pennsylvania Drug Act Cases — Professional License Revocation, Suspension, and Reinstatementts

A series of recent cases have just been decided that address automatic suspensions and revocations of health care professional’s licenses (and thus the time period after which reinstatement is possible). These are very important decisions effecting every professional confronted with criminal charges, to what charges they should not plead guilty, and the collateral consequences of a felony conviction.

The first case was decided in 2014. That case is Packer v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, Department of State, State Board of Nursing, 99 A.3d 965 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014), petition for allowance of appeal denied, 109 A.3d 680 (Pa. 2015). The second case is McGrath v. Bureau of Prof’l & Occupational Affairs, 2016 Pa. Commw. LEXIS 367 (Commw. Ct. Aug. 24, 2016). McGrath reverses Packer, discussing more in depth the 1985 law that amended the Nursing Act to provide for automatic license suspensions and 10 year reinstatement periods based upon felony Drug Act convictions. The drug Act is found 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(1-32).

Only felony criminal charges under the Drug Act, 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(1-32), trigger these cases. If a professional is convicted of a felony under the Drug Act, Section 14 of the Nursing Act (the “Act”) becomes effective, thereby allowing the Board to institute an automatic license suspension and/or revocations.  Section 14 of the Act states the Board has the discretion to refuse, suspend, or revoke any license if the Nurse is, among other things, convicted of a Drug Act violation. Section 15 of the Law addresses the procedures for suspensions, revocations, and reinstatement of licenses following a hearing before the Board:

All suspensions and revocations shall be made only in accordance with the regulations of the Board, and only by majority vote of the members of the Board after a full and fair hearing before the Board. All actions of the Board shall be taken subject to the right of notice, hearing and adjudication, and the right of appeal therefrom . . . . The Board, by majority action and in accordance with its regulations, may reissue any license which has been suspended. If a license has been revoked, the Board can reissue a license only in accordance with section 15.2. (Emphasis added.)

Section 15.1(b) of the Law, however, which was added in 1985, mandates that the Board automatically suspend licenses under certain circumstances prior to a hearing. Of relevance to the circumstance now before the Court, Section 15.1(b) of the Law provides, in part:

(b) A license issued under this act shall automatically be suspended upon the legal commitment to an institution because of mental incompetency from any cause . . . , conviction of a felony under the [Drug Act,] or conviction of an offense under the laws of another jurisdiction, which, if committed in Pennsylvania, would be a felony under [the Drug Act]. . . . Automatic suspension under this subsection shall not be stayed pending any appeal of a conviction. Restoration of such license shall be made as hereinafter provided in the case of revocation or suspension of such license.(Emphasis added.)

Section 15.2 of the Law, which follows immediately after Section 15.1(b), provides:

Unless ordered to do so by Commonwealth Court or an appeal therefrom, the Board shall not reinstate the license of a person to practice nursing . . . which has been revoked. Any person whose license has been revoked may reapply for a license, after a period of at least five (5) years, but must meet all of the licensing qualifications of this act for the license applied for, to include the examination requirement, if he or she desires to practice at any time after such revocation.All suspensions and revocations shall be made only in accordance with the regulations of the Board, and only by majority vote of the members of the Board after a full and fair hearing before the Board. All actions of the Board shall be taken subject to the right of notice, hearing and adjudication, and the right of appeal therefrom . . . . The Board, by majority action and in accordance with its regulations, may reissue any license which has been suspended. If a license has been revoked, the Board can reissue a license only in accordance with section 15.2.

These cases typically involve nurses convicted of drug offenses or prescription fraud matter.  While in jail or out of a job, the Board prosecutors (through either annual renewal, self-reporting, or automatic fingerprint notification upon arrest) learn of the drug charges and file a Rule to Show Cause with the Board seeking an automatic suspension without prior notice to the licensee. I typically see the Motion and the Order of Suspension that allows the licensee to respond to the Petition after the Board issues the automatic suspension and issues with Order with a right to a hearing on limited basis.

The final Order of Suspension language is the issue in these cases.  The suspension order states the licensee is ineligible for reinstatement for a 10 year time period. The Packer and McGrath claim that because there are no administrative regulations addressing implementation of the new automatic suspension law that the Board did not have the authority to institute in effective a mandatory 10 year license suspension. More importantly, the nurses objected to the Board action instituting a 10 year mandatory suspension versus consent agreements that offered a reduced reinstatement time period to 3 years. After reviewing much of the arguments, the court in Packer, which affirmed that new interpretation stating:

The Law is structured in a manner that affords the Board discretion (through decision making or regulation) to suspend or revoke a license under certain circumstances (Section 14 of the Law) and removes discretion from the Board in other circumstances by mandating that the Board suspend a license if certain circumstances exist (Section 15.1(b) of the Law). It would appear that the General Assembly, in mandating license suspensions under Section 15.1(b) for certain drug convictions and legal commitments based on mental incompetency, viewed those circumstances to be sufficiently serious such that it removed from the Board its discretion not to suspend or revoke a license. In other words, the General Assembly viewed those circumstances to be so serious that suspension is mandatory and automatic. Given that the General Assembly took measures to remove discretion from the Board by legislating automatic suspension, it would seem unlikely that the General Assembly would then allow the Board to exercise discretion and lift an automatic suspension at any time. Rather, it is much more likely that the General Assembly contemplated that an automatic suspension would remain in effect for at least some minimal period of time, which is consistent with the Board’s interpretation of the Law.

However, in McGrath the entire Commonwealth Court reviews Packer and the legislative process, overruling Packer, stating:

Because we conclude that Packer’s punitive interpretation of the ambiguous statutory provisions of the Nursing Law violates the principle that ambiguities in penal statutes must be strictly construed against the government, Section 1928(b)(1) of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972 (Statutory Construction Act), 1 Pa. C.S. § 1928(b)(1); Richards v. Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, 20 A.3d 596, 600 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2011) (en banc) (discussing the common law rule of lenity), we overrule Packer. Therefore, we reverse the Board’s Order to the extent that it mandates a 10-year suspension of Ms. McGrath’s license and requires, based on Packer, Ms. McGrath to reapply for a new license under Section 6(c)(1) of the Nursing Law, rather than request reissuance of her suspended license pursuant to Section 15 of the Nursing Law, 63 P.S. §§ 216(c)(1), 225.

This effectively eliminates 7 years of an automatic suspension that became a revocation requiring 10 years prior to becoming eligible for reinstatement of a nursing license. This is huge.  Importantly, the court sets forth a statutory history of the Board’s apparent interpretation and use of its automatic license suspicion process as

Previously, the Board interpreted this statutory language as permitting it to consider each automatic license suspension on a case-by-case basis to determine the length of the suspension and to approve consent decrees setting forth the term of the suspension. Packer, 99 A.3d at 967, 970. The Board’s interpretation relied on Section 15, which gives the Board discretion in imposing and reviewing license suspensions under the Nursing Law. 63 P.S. § 225. However, in 2013, the Board changed its interpretation of these provisions without, as observed in Packer, engaging in either formal interpretation, i.e., promulgating regulations, or informal interpretation, i.e., issuing policy guidelines, regarding its new interpretation. Packer, 99 A.3d at 969-71. Rather, the Board “altered its application of the [Nursing] Law based upon a directive from its parent agency, the Department of State [(Department)], Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs [(Bureau)].” Id. at 970. According to the Board, “the [Bureau] made the determination that the language in all the acts with automatic suspension provisions authorized the boards to impose a year automatic suspension and that all healthcare providers should be treated equally.” Id. at 970 n.10 (internal quotation omitted). Thus, “until . . . the Bureau or the Department issued an unidentified directive in 2013 to all health profession boards” indicating that “the Board (and apparently prosecutors in the Bureau)” had to apply Sections 15.1 and 15.2 in a non-discretionary manner, the Board and the Bureau’s prosecutors interpreted the statutory language as authorizing the exercise of discretion in determining the length of a suspension issued pursuant to Section 15.1(b). Packer, 99 A.3d at 970.

After discussing the legal and legislative process the McGrath Court makes the following remarkable statement,

The impact of Packer on the individuals affected is to preclude them from engaging in their profession for 10 years before the Board has the authority to even review their requests to reissue their suspended licenses. It prevents the Board from exercising its discretion, as it does in all other suspensions, to determine whether the Commonwealth’s citizens will be harmed by the reinstatement of a particular nurse. Such a result prevents individuals from earning their livelihood during that time period, which is particularly important because, based on the ambiguousness of Section 15.1(b) and 15.2 of the Nursing Law, licensed individuals have no guidance regarding what actions result in what punishment under the Nursing Law. We believe that our continuing reliance on Packer, therefore, creates [35] a “great injustice or injury” to those individuals.

This is the first time I have read a court case worried about a convicted felon professional’s ability to secure employment. This Commonwealth Court decision is finally taking a step to curtailing the conservative legislature from stopping hard working professionals who secured a license from every practicing their profession again. The court does not state suspension or revocation of the license is improper. It does state, however, that these individuals should be allowed to try to get their licenses back sooner, through hard work, and become working members of society again.  The Board has the discretion and the legislature can not take that away from them.

This is a momentous decision pushing back the General Assembly from issuing mandates to Pennsylvania’s  licensing boards. The legislature has previously given the Boards extensive discretion in deciding cases. The courts have routinely enforced this discretionary authority. The en banc Commonwealth Court is now telling the legislature these mandatory pronouncements are unnecessary and constitute legislative overreach. As well, the Court is telling the legislature in these hard economic times, let the professionals go back to work.

The import of these cases can not be understated. First and foremost, have proper counsel in any criminal matter involving the Drug Act violation so that your professional license is able to be reinstated at the appropriate time. Thereafter, make sure you properly respond to all license disciplinary action petitions. The Boards attempt to unilaterally interpret its governing law and regulations is many times wrong. Appellate review is proper. Courts really do objectively look at the evidence below and the legal actions taken by the Board. These cases involved convicted felons who were professionals and they still won their case. Call me to discuss these important cases and their affect on you license.

IP Addresses and an Expectation of Privacy — NIT and Government Malware

My criminal practice recently focused on a significant case involving IP addresses and privacy rights. The case involves government use of online surreptitious surveillance methods, an NIT, in a criminal investigation to determine a potential defendant’s Internet Protocol (“IP”) address, and thus home address, to subsequently serve criminal subpoenas and search warrants on that home address. The government maintains in these types of investigations potential criminal defendants have no expectation of privacy in their IP address. However, various criminal statutes, regulatory provisions, and sentencing guidelines reflect Congress’ intent to provide a national reasonable expectation of privacy rights in “IP” addresses and thus location data. This blog shall identify several federal statutes that establish Congressional privacy rights in IP or location address data.

In one criminal statute, Congress makes it illegal under 18 U.S.C. § 1030(5) to “knowingly cause[s] the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damage without authorization, to a protected computer.” Subsection 1030(f) “does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision of a State, or of an intelligence agency of the United States.” Congress’ requirement of a warrant in subsection (f), “prior authorization” through a judicially approved legal procedure and probable cause, indicates the privacy and constitutional rights that are applicable to these searches, when the take place in searching a defendant’s home pre-arrest.

In these cases, the Government maintains defendants do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their IP location data. They are wrong. The government thinks it is OK to hack private individual’s computers through a code or command sent to that computer. Courts have held these types of investigations are searches, requiring an authorized warrant, and thus judicial oversight. Required judicial oversight is Congressional recognition of privacy rights in location data.

This position is supported by a recent national criminal case. In 2013 various Chinese state co-conspirators were indicted for violating 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028 and 1030, et seq. At paragraphs 15, 18, and 43 of the indictment, the Government alleges these officials engaged in acts constituting violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(1), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028A(b), 1028A(c)(4), and 2. The blatant and outrageous criminal conduct at paragraphs 52-53 includes illegally taking personal identification information of another, without authorization. The Government equates stealing personal IP address and location data with violations of the United States Code.

The United States Sentencing Guidelines include a specific guideline provision devoted to theft of personal privacy data. For sentencing purposes, confidential information under 18 U.S.C. § 1039(h)(1)(A) includes personal location data. U.S.S.G. §2H3.1 addresses the manner in which federal courts are to assess offense levels and sentencing enhancements for violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1039.

In the context of active location data provided through cellular telephone surveillance capabilities, there has been extensive litigation over the definition of Other Information that is generated when utilizing a cellular telephone. Congress defines Other Information as historical and real time “cell site location information” (“CSLI”), which discloses location data of persons utilizing cellular telephones. In In re Application, 620 F.3d 304 (3d Cir. 2010), the Third Circuit addresses probable cause requirements in warrants seeking this information based upon the privacy issues attached thereto. See (http://www.phila-criminal-lawyer.com/Publications/005061214-Hark.pdf).

In 1997 Congress passed amendments to the Communications Act of 1934. Congress, and the FCC, through enabling regulations, passed numerous rules identifying and then delineating the exact nature of customers’ privacy rights to their personal information and telecommunication companies’ duty of protecting such from commercial exploitation. 47 U.S.C. § 222 was added to the Communications Act by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 222 of the Act establishes a duty of every telecommunications carrier to protect the confidentiality of customer proprietary network information (” CPNI”). CPNI is “information that relates to the quantity, technical configuration, type, destination, location, and amount of use of a telecommunications service subscribed to by any customer of a telecommunications carrier, and that is made available to the carrier by the customer solely by virtue of the carrier-customer relationship.” 47 U.S.C. § 501 makes it a crime to knowingly and intentionally violate (disclose this information) the Act.

The Privacy Act of 1974 addresses privacy of federal employees’ personal information. “No agency shall disclose any record which is contained in a system of records by any means of communication to any person, or to another agency, except pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains [subject to 12 exceptions].” 5 U.S.C. § 552 a(b). 32 CFR 505.7 – relating to Freedom of Information Act disclosures of Federal Employees personal information states at subsection (e) (1) states “The release of home addresses and home telephone numbers normally is prohibited.”

Release of personal location information is normally considered a clearly “unwarranted invasion” of personal privacy and is exempt from mandatory release under the FOIA. 32 CFR § 505.7(d)(1)(vi) identifies home addresses as personal information not to be release without prior consent of the individual. There is an entire Department of Justice Overview of this Act on its website. The DOJ has its own Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer enforcing provisions of the Privacy Act on Federal employees and agencies. https://www.justice.gov/opcl/overview-privacy-act-1974-2015-edition.

Congress has established privacy obligations on the private sector through legislation affecting the financial services, health care, government, and Internet sectors. Federal regulations issued to carry out federal privacy laws impose obligations on covered entities to implement information security programs to protect unauthorized dissemination of private individual’s personal information. Protected personal information (“PPI”) in each service field typically includes name, address (location) date of birth, and social security numbers of the persons affected. A short list of CFR sections addressing PPI includes 32 CFR 701.115, 32 CFR 505.7, and 36 CFR 902.56.

In light of numerous federal statutes criminalizing any disclosure of personal privacy information (address location data) of both private and government employees, every defendant or target has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their location data, to which a legal and proper warrant is required for the Government to discover such information.

Please call me to discuss your case.

Network Investigative Techniques, Federal Criminal Search Tools, and Your 4Th Amendment Rights

My involvement for twenty five years in federal criminal matters has resulted in me handing many different Motions to Suppress. Recently, in the context of Federal internet criminal investigations, I have gained extensive experience fighting the new federal investigative techniques, (“NIT”) that reveal personal identity and location data.

Once such case involves the Government’s use of an NIT or Network Investigative Technique. The NIT is a malware program placed on a computer server that launches itself into each computer accessing that server to engage in alleged criminal activity.  The accessing computers utilize the TOR network for anonymity purposes.  Upon accessing specific areas of the server, the malware on the server then sends to the activating computer (in another state typically inside a person’s home) a code instruction to search, secure, and transmit back to the server the user’s IP address. Thereafter, search warrants secure the personal identification and location information of the accessing computer owner.

I have filed motions to suppress this search technique.  The Government bears the burden of showing, under the Fourth Amendment, the reasonableness of each individual act constituting a search or seizure. The burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence. The court is presented with the choice of two tracks of analysis. Does the court choose to evaluate these defendants’ constitutional rights affected by the NIT Warrant under the:
1) Reasonable expectation of privacy test set forth in United States v. Katz, 389 U.S. 347 (1967); or
2) The property-based Fourth Amendment test set forth in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012). There, the court exclusively applied the property-based approach to determine whether a search occurs when the Government physically occupies private property of another for the purposes obtaining information. This approach keeps easy cases easy.

  1. PROPERTY-BASED FOURTH AMENDMENT PROTECTIONS

The court must choose the property-based search analysis set forth in JonesJones holds that surveillance on a person through electronic means without a warrant constitutes a trespass and may be an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. 132 S.Ct. at 953–54. Even though Jones involved warrantless global positioning system (“GPS”) searching, the analysis applies because the NIT warrant is illegal. Jones makes clear the constitutional nature of computer searches, especially in the privacy of one’s home.

Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013), follows Jones’ property – based Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.  The Jardines court held that a warrantless dog sniffing through the front door of Jardines’ home constitutes an unconstitutional search of a constitutionally protected area.  In Jardines, as here, “the officers learn what they learned only by physically intruding on Jardines’ property to gather evidence.”  This search activity is enough to establish that a search occurred. These cases stand for the proposition that the “Fourth Amendment, at its very core, stands for the right of a man to retreat into his home and there be free from unreasonable Government intrusion.” Jardines, supra.

There is no evaluation or discussion of an expectation of privacy under the property-based Fourth Amendment jurisprudence after JonesJardines, 569 U.S. at *9.  The court recognizes a simplistic procedure.  If the Government goes on the property of another, (trespassing or not) it needs a warrant due to Fourth Amendment’s constitutional property rights. These NIT cases, the Government understood this legal necessity and secured the NIT warrant. However, the NIT warrant was illegal.

  1. The Constitutional Character of the NIT Search is Per Se Prejudicial

In today’s society, disclosing an Internet Protocol (“IP”) address is, in essence, disclosing protected location privacy. Similar to Jones‘ GPS coordinates in tracking devices or cellular telephones, location data reveals a great deal about a person.  As such, cases discussing governmental activity and search techniques that reveal a defendant/target’s location are relevant to the court’s analysis of prejudice and the constitutional level of protections in these motions to suppress.

United States v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544, 562 (D. C. Cir. 2010), affirmed, United States v. Jones, supra, stands for this proposition. Analogizing IP address location data to cellular telephones, Justice Alito writes that “society’s expectations have been that police agency and others will not secretly monitor and catalog every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period of time.” Jones at 945.

Thereafter, in Riley v. California, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S. Ct. 2473 (2014), the Supreme Court following Jones, specifically references location privacy as a reason to limit police searches of cellular telephones incident to arrest.  The Riley Court determines that due to the wealth of information electronic devices “contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.” Riley at 2494–95.

Riley even states, “The fact that an arrestee has diminished privacy interests does not mean that the Fourth Amendment falls out of the picture entirely. Not every search “is acceptable solely because a person is in custody.” Maryland v. King, 569 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 26). To the contrary, when “privacy-related concerns are weighty enough” a “search may require a warrant, notwithstanding the diminished expectations of privacy of the arrestee.” Ibid. One such example, of course, is Chimel. Chimel refused to “characteriz[e] the invasion of privacy that results from a top-to-bottom search of a man’s house as ‘minor.’” 395 U. S., at 766–767, n. 12. Because a search of the arrestee’s entire house was a substantial invasion beyond the arrest itself, the Court concluded that a warrant was required.” Riley, supra.  Cellular telephones and home computers are simultaneously offices and personal diaries containing the most intimate details of our lives. United States v. Cotterman, 709 F. 3d. 952, 964 (9th Cir.. 2013).  Several circuits recognize these facts, uniformly requiring a warrant prior to searching a computer. United States v. Paton, 573F.3-D 859 (9th Cir. 2009); United States v. Andrus, 483 F.3d 711, 718 (10th Cir. 2007).

The Eastern District of Pennsylvania addresses surveillance issues of GPS warrants in United States v. Ortiz, 878 F. Supp. 2d. 515 (E.D.Pa. 2012). In the Court’s discussion of location data and the privacy issues, it concludes that the Government’s warrantless surveillance technique “produces location data while inside the garage of a home or other Fourth Amendment protected place”, potentially yielding information that the Supreme Court specifically found in United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984), is protected by the Fourth Amendment.

An unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment occurs where, without a warrant, the Government surreptitiously employs an electronic device to obtain information it could not have obtained by observation from outside the curtilage of the house. The beeper tells the agent that a particular article is actually    located at a specific time in the private residence and is in the possession of the person or persons whose residence is being watched.  Even if visual surveillance has revealed that the article to which the beeper is attached  has entered the house, the later monitoring not only verifies the officers about observations but also establishes that the article remains on the premises. United States v. Karo 468 US at 715.

Ortiz at ___.

Review of these controlling Supreme Court cases and their emphasis on the data produced through cutting edge surveillance techniques (including an NIT) on electronic mediums (cellular telephones and home computers) render’s applicable the Fourth Amendment privacy protections afforded to Jones, Jardines, and Riley.

  1. Expectation of Privacy in an IP address

An expectation of privacy in location data that IP addresses reveal is both objectively and subjectively reasonable based upon people using the TOR network and how the Government secures those person’s IP address.  The Government typically argues that because these defendants may have initially disseminated their IP address through an internet service provider (“ISP”), they have no expectation of privacy in an IP address.  This is factually wrong.

  1. Third Party Doctrine

The case of Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), addresses warrantless access to information possessed by a third-party. This is the third-party doctrine set forth in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. at 957.  Third party dissemination and reduced expectation of privacy has no applicability here because of the NIT’s mechanism of search and how Government secures that defendant’s IP address from his computer, not a third-party ISP. The court requires factual testimony on this issue.

United States v. Stanley, 753 F.3d 114 (3d. Cir. 2014), specifically addresses the no expectation of privacy of IP addresses when a defendant uses his neighbor’s wireless router without permission. The Government found Stanley’s computer’s wireless signal piggy backing illegally on his neighbor’s unsecured wireless router. Such unauthorized use of the neighbor’s IP address through which a third-party provider secures individual media access control (“MAC”) addresses of moochers of other people’s wireless routers. The Court found this fact alone reveals that Stanley had no expectation of privacy in his IP or MAC address. Stanley‘s finding that there is not an expectation of privacy in an IP address is not binding here as such is not the basis of the Government’s investigation in this case.

These defendants’ IP addresses are not disclosed anywhere throughout the use of the TOR or his third party ISP.  Declaration, Special Agent Daniel Alfin, document no. 74-1, filed June 1, 2016, U.S. v. Matish, 4:16-cr-00016, attached hereto at Exhibit 3.  This declaration makes clear that the NIT did not secure any other defendant’s, IP address from a third-party ISP or through the TOR network. Rather, the NIT searched for and secured the accessor’s IP address SOLELY from their own computer programming.

The NIT transferred directly to the Government from that defendant’s computer, his IP address not through the ISP.  The Government must acknowledge this fact in response to court’s inquiry of how the NIT worked in Matish. The Government bluntly concedes that but for the IP address, it could not locate these defendants.  These IP address would have been unknown.  The accessing defendants’ personal location data is collected from the accessing computer. See Exhibit 3, Alfins’ declaration, ¶¶ 22 and 25; Exhibit 2, Alfin’s May 19, 2016 Testimony, page 13-17, 21–26.  Alfin makes clear this factual point.

Once put to the test in a Motion to Compel Discovery, Alfin’s testimony is in stark contrast to the NIT Affiant Special Agent Douglas Macfarlane’s affidavit stating that the NIT instructions “are designed to cause the user’s ‘activating’ computer to transmit certain information to a computer controlled by or known to the government,” including the “activating” computer’s actual IP address. See Affidavit in Support of Application for Search Warrant, at ¶ 33.   The NIT would deploy “each time that any user or administrator log[ged] into Playpen by entering a username and password.” (Id., Ex. 1 ¶ 36.) The FBI could then link a username and its corresponding activity on the site with an IP address. (Id., Ex. 1 ¶ 37.)  This is factually wrong when compared to Alfin’s declaration and testimony regarding how the NIT worked its search functions performed when an accessing computer logged onto the Playpen Website.

The Government was less than candid with the tribunal by not advising it that the NIT would send a computer search and seizure program to the user’s home computer and then send back to the FBI computer an IP address.  The FBI was not linking a username and corresponding activity to an IP address. Further, the record is unclear if the Government told  the Magistrate that it was concurrently filing a Title III warrant.  This would have disclosed both its strategic use of a magistrate to issue the NIT Warrant and its seizure gathering mechanism of electronic information for which it required Article III judicial authorization.

The NIT that accessed these defendants’ computers operates in the computer memory locations, retrieved information, and then leaves the computer. The same situation is presented when the Government comes into your house, searches your house, and then leaves. The Government is required to advise you of the search (giving you the search warrant) and then leaves you an inventory of items seized. None of that was done in this occasion.  Jones, Riley, Jardines affirm this constitutional requirement to which Rule 41(B) codifies into a procedure implementing the Fourth Amendment’s warrant provision.

As such, the question is not whether there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy in an Internet IP address (as Werdene concluded there was not), but does a person have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area where the search (his home) occurred and in the information seized (his location).   Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128 (1978). Darby and Matish conclude yes.  This court must choose the property-based Fourth Amendment analysis and afford these deendants the constitutional protections because the NIT searches a home-based computer.

Call me to discuss your NIT, Playpen based federal government internet criminal matter.

Pennsylvania’s Professional License Disciplinary Enforcement Environment

These are tough times.  I am receiving more calls then ever.  The issues range from PHMP and PNAP case worker treatment, prosecution enforcement actions, to delays in decisions on cases.  More than ever, experienced counsel is necessary to help navigate the treacherous waters of Pennsylvania’s over reaching, over bearing, and heightened enforcement environment.

The first set of calls I receive focus on the lack of information PHMP case workers provide when discussing the proposed monitoring agreements.  These case workers are not attorneys.  They are also not your friends.  They do not care about you.

They do not have authority or time to explain the intricacies or legal ramifications of signing the PHMP/PNAP/SARPH contract.  More importantly, again, they do not care.  The new file that has just been dropped on their desk has your name on it.  All they want to do is be done with it.  They are overworked, underpaid, and have too much legal power and responsibility over too many people to do their job fairly, correctly, or with any sense of compassion.

Their goal is to get you to sign the contract, trick you into agreeing to terms of an enforcement process of which they know you probably will not be able to perform, get you to violate the terms, and then close your file so it can be referred back to the prosecutor to file revocation proceedings.   These case workers are merely cogs in a  wheel enforcing regulatory compliance on all program participants.  They have no authority to change the terms and conditions of the program.  They don’t care how much it costs, that you can not afford it, can’t work in the beginning, have kids, have a family, have a life.  DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING UNTIL WE TALK.

The second set of calls regards attorneys who do not know the collateral consequences of criminal matters on the professional’s license and the impairment issues.  DUI charges are the typical example.  Under the new regulations, nurses must report criminal charges within 30 days of the arrest.  Under the DUI ARD process, the applicant must go to a CRN evaluation and may try to get in patient treatment to avoid jail if they are not ARD eligible.

This process conflicts with the new enforcement mechanism in every case of compelling nurses to go to Mental and Physical evaluations (see my other blogs in the archives) with the DUI pending.  Part of the Mental and Physical evaluation process is providing all mental and medical treatment records.  The newly created medical record with diagnosis and treatment recommendations, you just created by going to the in-patient program to avoid jail, from non-experts now must be provided to the Board’s expert.

Going to treatment to save jail time impacts the professional license.  Talking too much at the CRN evaluation impacts your processional license.  Hiring the wrong attorney to handle your DUI to save money on that part of the case will impact your processional license.  Too many times I have to clean up the mess made by good intending but uninformed attorneys.

DO NOT HIRE THE WRONG ATTORNEY FOR YOUR DUI OR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL EVALUATION.  IF THEY CAN NOT ANSWER PHMP OR PNAP QUESTIONS — MEANING THEY DO NOT MAKE YOU FEEL CONFIDENT OF HOW TO HANDLE THE LICENSING ISSUES — CALL ME.

Lastly, questions regarding when will a decision be handed down, what to do next, and what does the decision in my case mean — have been cropping up.  Hearing officers are over whelmed. Enforcement actions are filed involving every licensing board for any professional with criminal charges, employment related investigations, and course of care cases.  Hearings are pushed out 30, 60, 90 days.  After a hearing, briefs should be submitted in almost every case, delaying formal decisions for months.  Once a proposed adjudication and order is filed, the board reviews the decision and must accept that decision.  This takes many more months.

Then implementation of the decision takes place.  Importantly, all the while, licensees are still practicing. These delays are not good but at a minimum, the licensee is still practicing and making money.

This process is harder on the applicants without a license or the individual whose lost their license and has filed for reinstatement.  The documents were request to be accumulated during this time are huge in securing timely reinstatement of any license.

However, the Boards can and do only go so fast.  That is why fighting the case from the outset to insure no license suspension or revocation, or not going into the program and fighting the case with a license is better than losing your license with either no attorney or the wrong attorney and being at any Board’s mercy of when they will reinstate your license.  CALL ME TO PROPERLY HANDLE YOUR LICENSE DISCIPLINARY ACTION.

Major US Supreme Court DUI Decision and Pennsylvania Licensees

On June 23 the United States Supreme Court decided  BIRCHFIELD v. NORTH DAKOTA, three consolidated cases addressing important substantive and procedural legal issues regarding driving under the influence (“DUI”) cases.  In each case, the North Dakota motorist, lawfully arrested or under investigation for drunk driving, was convicted of a separate crime or otherwise received an enhanced criminal penalty for refusing to submit to a warrantless blood test measuring the alcohol in their bloodstream.

All three state court cases results depended upon the proposition that criminal laws ordi­narily may not compel a motorist to give evidence against themselves in the form a blood sample or breath test unless a warrant authorizing such testing is issued by a magistrate.  The specific issue considered was how the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine applies to breath and blood tests incident to DUI arrests. The court ruled while compelled evidence from breath tests are constitutional based upon the limited inconvenience and invasion of privacy to the motorist, compelled blood tests are unconstitutional for those same reasons.

In Pennsylvania, 75 Pa C.S.A. § 1547 of the motor vehicle laws addresses motorists’ civil license suspension consequences for refusing to submit to a DUI investigation breath or blood test. Depending on how many refusals the operator of the car has previously engaged, a driver’s license suspension based upon a breath or blood test refusal starts at one year and may escalate. The court ruled that these civil collateral consequence license suspension for refusing the test remains constitutional. “Our prior opinions have referred approvingly to the gen­eral concept of implied-consent laws that impose civil penalties and evidentiary consequences on motorists who refuse to comply.”The Birchfield case did not question the constitutionality of those civil collateral consequence refusal laws, and the Supreme Court limited its ruling stating that “nothing should be read to cast doubt on them.”

In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that the natural dissipation of alcohol from the bloodstream does not always constitute an exigency justifying the warrantless taking of a blood sample. That was the holding of Missouri v. McNeely, 569 U. S. ___, where the State of Mis­souri was seeking a per se rule that “whenever an officer has probable cause to believe an individual has been driving under the influence of alcohol, exigent circum­stances will necessarily exist because BAC evidence is inherently evanescent.”  This case set the stage for Birchfield, where the individual defendant’s objected to being criminally penalized for not submitting to the warrantless blood draw or were criminally penalized when the warrantless blood draw produced evidence that was used against them in trial.

Pennsylvania’s DUI statute, 75 Pa.C.S.A.§3802D, provides for enhanced criminal penalties for refusing to submit to a breath or blood test stemming from a DUI investigation. DUI offenders with multiple prior DUI convictions faced enhanced license suspensions and jail sentences based upon the same refusal. In Birchfield, after reviewing all of the prior case law regarding car stops, privacy concerns, and search incident to arrest case law, the court held that motorists cannot be deemed to have consented to submit to a blood test on pain of committing a criminal offense.  Motorists can not be compelled criminally to give evidence against themselves without a warrant signed by an independent magistrate.
The court has finally drawn a constitutional line in the sand limiting the extent to which a state may utilize driving-on-our-roads informed consent laws to compel motorists to give evidence against themselves so the state may investigate and prosecute them for criminal conduct. In Pennsylvania, this will mean enhanced criminal penalties associated with refusing a blood test, not breathalyzer, in any criminal DUI prosecution may no longer be constitutionally permissible.  Please call to discuss your DUI charge, your medical or professional license issue and potential discipline on your license from stemming from your first or subsequent DUI.
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