Kansas and Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Danielle Sanger Explains: Is My Nursing Licensure Case Criminal or Civil?

Nurses sometimes come to my office for a consultation regarding a licensing issue, and one of the first questions they ask is “can I go to jail for this?” The difference between jail-worthy offenses—criminal matters—and cases with “only” licensing consequences—civil matters—is not always clear, and depending on the conduct in question, the nurse’s case could end up being criminal, civil, or both. Because I so often get questions about the intricacies of these matters, I have written the following blog post to explain the difference.

If you are a nurse in Kansas or Missouri facing an allegation of misconduct or an investigation, call attorney Sanger today at 785-979-4353 to schedule a free consultation. Your career, reputation, and livelihood are at risk, and the challenge facing you is one you cannot work your way through alone. 

How Criminal Charges and Licensure Allegations Can Overlap

Criminal matters can result in the state putting you in jail, or taking your “liberty” in constitutional terms. In criminal cases, a district attorney files a criminal complaint against you in court, and you usually learn of the charges by being served by a police officer or by being arrested. A significant amount of “due process” is required in a criminal case.  Due process means an opportunity to know what the accusations are against you, a chance to review the evidence against you, and a hearing where you and your attorney can confront or attack those accusations and evidence with your evidence.  Similarly, the standard of proof—beyond a reasonable doubt—is high in a criminal case, a jury usually judges guilt or innocence, and the hearing or trial process is quite formal. Licensing cases typically are not criminal matters, although they can evolve into criminal cases later on, which I will discuss further.

In contrast, a civil matter is one where the state seeks to take some “property” from you, specifically, your property interest in your nursing license. Like in a criminal case, the state nursing board cannot take or suspend your professional license without “due process.” But in a  civil matter, the amount of process you receive is far less than in a criminal case.  A board usually makes licensing decisions after a much more informal hearing.

An Example

Take as an example: a nurse who is providing her relatives opioids for their pain without a prescription. If the state nursing board is alerted to this practice, the nurse will likely receive a notice of accusations in the mail, initiating her due process rights. That letter is a civil matter. If she is found to have violated the pharmacy regulations by a preponderance of the evidence—by a likelihood of at least 51%—she will have a civil penalty such as a fine, suspension, or license revocation. However, distributing opioids without a prescription is also a crime.

If the nurse in the above example admits in her civil hearing before the nursing board that she has been distributing opioids, that information can be used against her criminally. A statement made in a civil hearing, like any statement, can be used against you, even if it is not made under oath. The Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the nurse’s licensing issue can hand the transcript of her admission to an Assistant District Attorney who can then charge the pharmacist with felony drug distribution.

As I stated above, the burden of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is much higher than the civil hearing’s “preponderance of the evidence” standard. But if the nurse has admitted to distributing the opioids, that unequivocal admission will likely meet either standard. As a result, a civil matter can quickly turn into a criminal one if the conduct alleged violates both the state regulations that govern your medical field as well as the criminal statutes.

Contact an Experienced Kansas and Missouri Licensing Attorney Now

You have worked too hard to attain your nursing license.  Contacting an experienced licensing attorney to help you through the misconduct hearing process, explain the criminal implications of any allegations against you, and can mean the difference between getting back to helping your patients and losing your career forever.

Kansas and Missouri professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger is prepared to advocate for your best interests and defend you. Call Attorney Sanger at 785-979-4353 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney experienced dealing with nursing licensing issues.