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

A Great Commonwealth Court Appellate Review

April has been a busy month for appellate decisions.  A recent case of my was decided in my client’s favor.  Important lessons are learned from this case.

On March 27, 2015, the Board issued an order to show cause why Freeman’s license should not be suspended, revoked, restricted, or a civil penalty imposed, for violating the Practical Nurse Law, 63 P.S. §§651-667.8, and the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA), 18 Pa. C.S. §§9101-9183. The six counts set forth by the Board as follows:

(1) under Section 16(a)(5) of the Practical Nurse Law, 63 P.S. §666(a)(5),3Link to the text of the note because Freeman was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude (criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception from Home Depot);

(2) under Section 16(a)(5) of the Practical Nurse Law, because Freeman was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude (theft by deception from a Majestic Oaks resident);

(3) under Section 9124(c)(2) of CHRIA,4Link to the text of the note because Freeman was convicted of a misdemeanor related to the profession (theft by deception from a Majestic Oaks resident);

(4) under Section 16(a)(4) of the Practical Nurse Law, 63 P.S. §666(a)(4),5Link to the text of the note in that Freeman [*4]  committed fraud or deceit in securing her admission to practice (by failing to truthfully answer the question about having pending criminal charges on her biennial renewal application);

(5) under Section 16(a)(8) of the Practical Nurse Law, 63 P.S. §666(a)(8),6Link to the text of the note in that Freeman was guilty of unprofessional conduct (by committing theft by deception from a Majestic Oaks resident); and

(6) under Section 16(a)(3) of the Practical Nurse Law, 63 P.S. §666(a)(3),7Link to the text of the note for violating the Board’s regulation at 49 Pa. Code §21.148(b)(4),8Link to the text of the note which prohibits nurses from misappropriating property or money from patients (by committing theft by deception from a Majestic Oaks resident).

When the board entered a penalty of license suspension rather than probation. Factually, my presentation of the evidence at the hearing was given great weight on appeal.

Freeman testified on her own behalf. Regarding the criminal charges that led to ARD, Freeman explained that a friend had asked her to drive her to Home Depot to make a return. Her friend did not have a receipt or her driver’s license, which the store required to process a return. Accordingly, Freeman gave her driver’s license to the store clerk. While Freeman was waiting for the return to be processed, her friend borrowed her car keys and placed shoplifted merchandise in Freeman’s car.

Regarding the conviction for theft, Freeman acknowledged that she used a patient’s personal financial information to pay her utility bills. She explained:

Well, at the time, I was raising my son on my own as a single mother. Everything was on the verge of being cut off. You know, I didn’t want to have to go back to the shelter. I made a stupid decision to do that.

Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 7/2/2015, at 33; R.R. 56. Freeman expressed remorse for her actions, stating:

I mean, I’m just nervous because — you know, I worked so hard to get where I am today. I do regret the — some of the decision[s] that I’ve made, because I love my career. I love helping people. I love what I do, and based on the decisions that I’ve made, it’s just jeopardizing my whole career. I had to spend lots of money, you know, for lawyers and court costs, fees and everything. But yes, I do regret being here today, in the situation that I’m in today, I mean.

Id. at 43-44; R.R. 66-67.

Freeman recounted the difficult circumstances she overcame in her personal life. Freeman explained that, after graduating from high school, she became involved in an abusive relationship for approximately one year. She moved to a shelter, where she lived for two years. Id. at 46; R.R. 69. While living at the shelter, Freeman enrolled in a certified nursing assistant (CNA) training program and obtained her CNA license. She found employment and, after saving some money, moved out of the shelter and into a one-bedroom apartment. Shortly thereafter, Claimant gave birth to a son, for whom she was solely responsible because the father was incarcerated. Freeman worked several jobs while continuing her nursing education and, in April 2013, earned her certificate in practical nursing.

As I have said many times, mitigation evidence is huge.  Handling these cases at a hearing requires trained counsel to properly distill the facts for the court.  On appeal, finding the winning argument also takes experience.  In this case, the multitude of criminal allegations confused the Board.  It disciplined her for a conviction she did not suffer.

Freeman challenges the Board’s sanction because it cited crimes for which she was not convicted and facts not in the record. The record showed that Freeman pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit theft at Home Depot and one count of theft for stealing financial information from a nursing home resident. She was not convicted of stealing the resident’s jewelry; that criminal charge was nolle prossed. The Commonwealth responds that it matters only that Freeman was convicted of theft. Whether it was theft of jewelry and banking account information, or just banking account information, is irrelevant. The Board argues that its reference to a conviction of theft of jewelry was harmless error. We disagree.

In making its decision to increase the penalty, the Board stated that “[Freeman] was convicted of theft for stealing jewelry and using the bank account of an elderly patient to pay her personal bills.” Board Adjudication, 7/26/2016, at 1; Freeman Brief at P29 (emphasis added). This fact is not supported by the record. The charge related to theft of jewelry was nolle prossed, and there is a difference between a criminal charge and a criminal conviction. Freeman asserts this requires a reversal of the Board’s sanction. The Board responds that the record supports this disputed statement and directs this Court to the Hearing Examiner’s finding of fact that “[t]he charge of Theft by False Impression was the result of [Freeman’s] theft of property including jewelry and checking account information….” Proposed Adjudication, 11/19/2015, at 5; Freeman Brief at P39.

A charge is an accusation or allegation that a person committed an offense. By contrast, a conviction is a finding by a court that a person is guilty of a criminal offense. In short, the finding of fact cited by the Board does not support its assertion that Freeman was “convicted” of “stealing jewelry.”

We won this case.  The license suspension was reversed.  The case has been sent back down to the Board.

 

 

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.

Another Really Nice Client Review with my Response

Here is another really nice and very accurate client review and my response. I can write blogs about this stuff. But, client testimonial about how aggressive and direct my representation is becomes the best blog.

I received a “letter of concern” from Pa nursing board after a charge of public intoxication.I unwittingly responded to the Board before contacting Richard.What a mistake!!!!The Board is not your ally-quite the opposite.Their job is to destroy you both financially and mentally.
Fortunately,Richard was able to expertly win our court case.Unfortunately,unbeknownst to me,I had been suffering from Bipolar disorder all the while,and the relentless emotional stresses caused by the Board caused me to suffer deep depression and a resulting manic swing where I had 2 DUI’s in a span of less than 2 weeks. Richard was right there for me and had my charges lessened significantly.Despite that,the Board required that I participate in their onerous,soul and money sucking program.I chose to voluntarily suspend my RN license rather than go through with that.I would not be able to work in my specialty during the 3+ years in the program,be out of thousands of dollars,and may not be employable when all is said and done.32 years as a nurse is enough for my lifetime anyway.
Richard Hark is an expert in protecting licenses of health care professionals and will work tirelessly to win your case.He is also very understanding and helpful with your anxieties at such a stressful and unsure time.I recommend him 100%.

Richard Quinton Hark’s response: “Thank you. I am so happy to help. I aggressively support every client’s need to take their medication without VRP and PHMP interjection in you, the professional’s, course of medical care and treatment. The one size fits all, regulatory approach does not work for everyone. We live in the best time of medical care and lawful prescription medication management of many medical conditions. Do not be ashamed or scared of your medical care as it pertains to your license. Anxiety, depression, ADHD are commonly diagnosed medical conditions for which properly administered and dosed medication management is no one’s business but the patient. Do not tell your job, your manager, the D.O.N., or any police officer in a DUI investigation. Do not respond to any letter of concern or sign medical authorizations releasing your medical care and treatment history to a social worker. Call me. This client and the others who have reviewed me attest to my aggressive defense of you, your privacy, and your license. I couldn’t be happier for this client who trusted my professional experience to help them, and won!!!!!!!”

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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