Missouri Professional Licensing Attorney Danielle Sanger Explains Issues Surrounding Fifth Amendment Self Incrimination

Professionals sometimes come to me with questions about “pleading the Fifth” in their hearings before licensing boards in Missouri. This concept comes into play when testifying truthfully might subject the testifier to criminal charges. While the U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to protect themselves from self-incrimination, Fifth Amendment protections are not a panacea. Deciding whether or not to testify is a complex decision and should not be made lightly. If you are even thinking about exerting your Fifth Amendment rights, you must seek expert legal help immediately.

If you are a professional in Missouri facing an investigation, call attorney Sanger immediately 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 this alone.

The Fifth Amendment

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that a person cannot be forced to testify against themselves in a criminal matter. Basically, a prosecutor cannot call a defendant to the witness stand and ask him or her whether they committed a crime. Importantly, a jury or court cannot hold that decision to remain silent against a defendant.

A hearing before a licensing board is not a criminal trial, however. While not a criminal prosecution, the United States Supreme Court held in Lefkowitz v. Turley, 414 US 70 (1973), that a person cannot be forced to testify in a civil matter such as a licensing hearing when the testimony could later incriminate them criminally:

A witness’ privilege against self-incrimination `not only protects the individual against being involuntarily called as a witness against himself in a criminal prosecution but also privileges him not to answer official questions put to him in any other proceeding, civil or criminal, formal or informal, where the answers might incriminate him in future criminal proceedings.’


Accordingly, you can “plead the Fifth” in a Missouri licensing hearing, meaning that you can refuse to testify. But is that a good idea?

Implications of Pleading the Fifth in Missouri

Remember, when you plead the Fifth, you are saying that your testimony may implicate you in a crime. While that tactic may be a wise one to avoid criminal prosecution, it is likely to be held against you in a licensing case.  That is a significant difference between a criminal and civil proceeding; your silence cannot be held against you in a criminal proceeding, but a civil proceeding such as a licensing board hearing can draw a negative inference from your refusal to testify.

Imagine you are a nurse and are alleged to have distributed opioids to family members illegally. In your licensing hearing, it would be wise to plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid serious criminal charges related to drug distribution. That said, in a civil matter, your decision to plead the Fifth may be used against you and will likely be taken as an admission by the licensing board. This adverse inference by the licensing board will likely cost you your license. Accordingly, taking the Fifth is a good way to avoid criminal prosecution, but is a strategy that will likely lead to negative consequences in the licensing context. It is never a decision to make lightly or without the help of experienced licensing counsel.

Contact an Experienced Kansas and Missouri Licensing Attorney Now

If you are a professional facing criminal prosecution, you are likely also in jeopardy of losing your professional license.  Whether it is a medical, counseling, nursing, accounting, veterinary or any other type of license, an inquiry from a licensing board means that your livelihood is in jeopardy. Contacting an experienced licensing attorney to help you through this process and can mean the difference between getting back to helping your patients or clients 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 licensing issues.