Hi, my name’s Robert Chelle with Chelle Law, and my law firm assists nurses with nursing board issues. Today I’m going to talk about whether you can be a nurse with a misdemeanor assault charge.
A couple of caveats. First one, this is not going to be a state-specific talk. Every board has its own rules. It would help if you looked into whatever state you decide to apply for your license. And look at those rules specifically. This will be more of a general conversation about what a board usually would look into.
If you did have a misdemeanor assault charge in your past. I’m only going to direct this to applicants. Say you have a current license and are wondering what will happen. Your board will have a pretty clear path of what they do with when to report a criminal charge. And what they do when you do that.
For Those Who’d Like to Enter Nursing School But Charged
People may be thinking, perhaps I’d like to go to nursing school. But I don’t know if I can get a license. Or maybe you’re just getting out of nursing school, and you think, oh crap. Now I have to apply. Is this going to be an issue?
In short, probably not. If you have a misdemeanor assault charge in your past, it likely won’t prohibit you from getting a nursing license. Many factors determine whether a board will grant a license or not regarding past criminal incidents. Let’s go through those. First, how long ago did it happen? An assault charge that occurred 20 years ago will be taken less seriously than one that happened a year ago.
Difference Between Charge and Conviction
Before I move forward, I want to discuss the difference between a charge and a conviction. Most people don’t understand the difference. So a charge means they’ve charged you with something, but they haven’t found you guilty. The boards generally do not care about that at all. I use that in the title of this article because that’s what most people search for.
But a conviction means you’ve reached a plea agreement, went to trial and lost, and had some pretrial diversion program. Most boards consider that a conviction in some way. You were found or pleaded guilty in this scenario and have to report it to the board on your application. Or maybe they’ll do a CRI, or they will always do a criminal background check. Maybe it pops up, and they reach out to you to discuss it.
How Long Ago and How Many Were the Misdemeanor Charges?
So, as I said before, the first thing is, how long ago did it happen? Then the second is how many assault charges do you have? There’s a difference between having one 20 years ago versus seven last year. If you have a cluster of assault charges, there’s generally a reason. It’s a mental health problem or, more likely, a substance abuse problem. People don’t just have multiple assault charges because they have some anger management problems. Or at least it’s pretty rare that that would happen. Some problem with drugs or alcohol almost always drives it. So first, they’re going to say, we want the criminal records. Either the court documents or the police report. Then they may ask you to write a statement about what happened.
Then, they may interview you at some point to discuss what happened most of the time. It’s relatively harmless. However, if the police report states that you were intoxicated, on drugs, or anything like that. The board’s primary concern will not be whether you assaulted somebody. It’s going to be, whether you have substance abuse problems, that will render you incapable or be at risk of not being able to provide safe patient care.
So even though it may start in one place, like, okay, did you assault someone? It will quickly shift to, okay, maybe you attacked somebody, but what was the underlying reason behind that? If it was just a fist fight with somebody over a partner or something, that’s one thing. But say you’re at a bar and had seven assault charges because you were wholly intoxicated. That will concern the board the most. So please take into account how long ago it happened and how many you have.
Probation for Nursing Students With Criminal Charges
Last will be other criminal charges. If you’ve had an assault charge, domestic violence charge, or DUI drug possession, all that will obviously concern any board. So, if it’s just one assault charge, that’s unlikely to stop you from getting a license. If it is a long sheet of problems across multiple accounts and convictions, that will be more of a concern. So if a board did have a concern about your safety to practice. Or maybe they thought you did have anger management and substance abuse problems. That doesn’t mean they will just completely deny licensure. Many times, what they’ll do is they’ll offer some probation to the nurse.
Let’s say they have a concern about substance abuse problems. They’ll say, all right, we will grant the license, but we will simultaneously put you on probation. Probation includes typically random drug testing supervision at work and some AA and NA nurse recovery group participation. You won’t be able to work on the nursing compact. There are restrictions on the hours and setting you work in. In that scenario, the board is somewhat satisfied that they will be able to monitor the nurse in some way for a short time—most of these usually last between 12 to 36 months. And after that period is over, the nurse’s license is unencumbered, they can do whatever they want after that. So that’s the worst-case scenario.
Worst-Case Scenario: You Could be Denied License
The worst-case scenario would be denying you a license, which is considered formal disciplinary action. But even if the board has huge concerns about a nurse’s behavior, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have alternatives. One of them is being placed on probation. Now, there are also scenarios where the board will say, this is so long ago. We’re, we’re just simply not concerned about your behavior. And they would grant the license without any formal disciplinary action. It just depends upon the board and upon the nurse.
I would suggest if you’re a nurse or at least an app or think of going to nursing school. You’re just not sure based on your past. I would find an attorney who does nursing board defense in the state that you want to apply to. And say, look, here’s my past. What’s your opinion on whether I can get a license or not?
Now, no one will be able to give you a guaranteed answer. But if someone has experience with a nursing board in any state, they should be able to provide you with a ballpark of yes or no. I’m here in Arizona, and I can tell you, I could almost with a hundred percent accuracy tell somebody, “yes. You would get licensed or no, you’re not.” Based on their past criminal incidents.
Reach Out to a Criminal Defense Attorney
So, if you have an Arizona issue, we’re happy and willing to help you. If you have problems in another state, I would suggest you reach out to someone in that state. An excellent way to find attorneys representing nurses before licensing boards. Is to look at the board meeting’s old minutes.
Every board has to release an agenda. Basically, here’s what will happen at every board meeting. And then they also have to release a summary of what happened, called the minutes. In the minutes, it will state if an attorney represents someone and what their name is. And so you can see, okay, these are the attorneys that frequently represent nurses in the state. That’ll at least give you a starting point as far as trying to find somebody besides randomly Googling people. I see some places listed on their websites that they do these things, but I see them at board meetings.
Hopefully, that was a bit of a guideline of what to do if you’ve had a past misdemeanor assault charge.
Other Blogs of Interest
- Can you be a Nurse with Misdemeanor Theft?
- What Can Disqualify You From Being a Nurse?
- Can a Felon Become a Nurse?
Can You be a Nurse with a Misdemeanor Drug Charge?
Can you be a nurse with a misdemeanor drug charge? Obviously, this is not going to be state-specific. I’m just going to give you general tips and things to think about if you’re going to apply for your nursing license. I know that many people that read these blogs are also maybe thinking of going into nursing school and are thinking, alright, well, maybe I can get into nursing school, but I can’t get a license, and I just wasted a bunch of time and money. So, I’m going to talk more about applicants or maybe even people that are thinking of going to nursing school. This is not going to be directed towards currently licensed nurses.
Alright, so you have a past misdemeanor drug charge which could be a possession of a bunch of different drugs, potentially distribution. There are some misdemeanor distribution charges as well. If you’ve been convicted, you’ve either gone to trial and lost or most likely reached a plea with the prosecutor, and then you had to do community service, fines, maybe some drug counseling, treatment, whatever it is, the board cares about convictions for the most part and not just charges.
It doesn’t mean you’ve ultimately been found guilty if you’re just charged with a crime. Only when you’ve been convicted or reached a plea, or maybe went into a pretrial diversion program, that’s where most boards find that the nurse, in their minds, would be convicted. So, if you’ve had one misdemeanor possession of marijuana from 20 years ago, that will not keep you from getting your nursing license, let’s just say.
What Does the Nursing Board Usually Look For in Drug Charges?
When a board looks at the criminal pass of a nurse, they’re going to run two things. They’re going to ask in the application, and this changes from state to state, but usually, they’ll ask: do you have any felony convictions? And then two, potentially, do you have any misdemeanor charges involving substance abuse? It does vary from state to state. You need to look at the specific language in the application of the state that you’re looking to apply to and then just see what you have to disclose. And then, the board is also going to write a criminal background check. Then anything that pops up in that criminal background check will likely reach out to you and ask you to give a summary of what happened and maybe even potentially provide them with the police records or court documents, so keep that in mind.
Now, in a board’s mind, what they care about is that they’re going to license safe nurses that don’t have drug problems. And the board’s stated mission is to protect the public. They’re not there to protect the nurse, so they will see how many different misdemeanor drug charges or convictions they have. If you’ve had 15 in the last three years, that is a big problem, and you will probably not get your license.
Review the Actions You’ve Taken to Resolve the Problem
If you had, as I said before, maybe one from 20 years ago, almost no chance you wouldn’t get your license. It’s a sliding scale. You need to consider how much time had elapsed from when you had your last conviction until when you applied and then how many you have. You can also think that if you did have a drug problem at the time, what have you done to fix the problem?
If a nurse was addicted to methamphetamine doesn’t mean you won’t get your license. But the board certainly wants to know,if you did have addiction issues, what did you do to solve that? Did you go to AA or NA, or did you go to counseling? Did you seek treatment? Maybe you went into inpatient rehab? Or maybe you went into an intensive outpatient treatment program in IOP? Maybe you’ve made some lifestyle changes. Or have a different friend group. Maybe you got away from an abusive spouse. Something like that. There must be a change if there’s just a big cluster of drug problems at a time. There must be some rehabilitation change for the board to feel comfortable with issuing a license.
When Charges Are Frequent and More Than Just a Misdemeanor
Let’s just say it’s a recent number of drug charges, and they think this nurse hasn’t done what they need to do. It’s certainly possible they could issue the license but also put the nurse on simultaneous probation for drug issues. In most states would include random drug testing, supervision at work, maybe some kind of continuing education, a nurse recovery group, counseling, rehab, whatever. I mean, there’s a variety of things they could do. But even if you’ve had a bunch of recent things, but you’re willing to do what it takes to get your license, the board can, as I said before, issue the license but put you on probation. It could be anywhere from 12 to 36 months, sometimes more. And then, if you were to get through that period, your license would no longer be encumbered.
Now, one bad thing about being placed on probation is if an alternative to a discipline program is not available for you. In an alternative discipline program, in most states, there’s a confidential monitoring program where you can do all the things I just listed, but it wouldn’t be public. And it wouldn’t be considered formal discipline. If the board only offers you formal discipline, that’s going to stay in your record, at least in most states, forever. So, you need to think about, alright, even if I do get a license, if I have this blemish on it forever, is that going to dampen the chances of me possibly getting the job I want to get? I would say no, but it is more difficult to find a job if you have a disciplinary history.
Before Attending a Nursing School, Get an Attorney to Review Your Drug Charges or Drug Conviction
So, in summary, if you just have one or two misdemeanor drug convictions, you’re probably fine. The closer to the date that you apply, the more scrutiny you’re going to get from the board. But overall, every situation is a little bit different. What I would suggest, I’m in Arizona, so I only help nurses with the Arizona board.
Before you even apply to a nursing school, it might make sense to reach out to somebody in the state that you’re thinking of applying to, someone who has experience with nursing board issues, and just say, hey, in the past, have you had a similar scenario? And then what is the likelihood of me getting a license once I apply? No one is going to be able to give you a 100% accurate guess, but if someone’s been doing the nursing board for a long time, they can usually give you a decently accurate, I guess, estimation of whether they think you would get licensed or not. And then maybe if there was disciplinary action attached to that or not.
Will a Misdemeanor Hurt My Chances of Nursing School?
Before a nurse even needs to apply for a nursing board license, they must also get into nursing school. And many nurses ask me, can a misdemeanor hurt my chances of getting into nursing school?
Nursing School Background Check
So, the answer is probably not. What will happen is most nursing schools will run a background check on you. That background check will show any criminal convictions you’ve had and most likely any criminal incidents that led to charges. But not convictions for the past seven years. Now, in this case, I’m guessing anyone concerned about a misdemeanor means they’ve been convicted of it. So, let’s talk about that specifically.
Misdemeanor for Nurses
A misdemeanor is a lower-level crime. You have felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors generally end up with no jail time. It’s usually fine in some DUIs. In Arizona, for instance, you will get jail time, even though it’s a misdemeanor DUI. But for the most part, misdemeanors end up in probation, community service, that type of thing. So, if a misdemeanor did pop up on your background for a nursing school, it’s likely they’d want an explanation. One way of facilitating that is to write out a statement of what happened. Also, if it’s possible, they would want to look at the court documents. So, it might be a good idea to get those in advance. I wouldn’t give those to nursing programs unless they specifically ask for them. Still, having them for the future is not a bad idea. Because it’s extraordinarily likely when you get done with nursing school and apply for a license in whatever state you’re in. The board of nursing will go through the same investigation. They will ask for the court documents.
So, it’s a good idea to have a criminal record for the school anyway. What the misdemeanor was will also play a role. They will, obviously, determine whether the nursing school has an issue with that or not. Most misdemeanors for nurses are theft, usually shoplifting, and domestic incidents. So, either domestic violence, disorderly conduct, or disturbing the peace. Something that comes out of a domestic incident between a spouse, a partner, and boyfriend, or a girlfriend. You know, something like that.
And then substance abuse-related misdemeanors, DUI, public intoxication, and drug possession. They probably make up 90% of all misdemeanors that nurses have in their past. If there’s not a pattern, you haven’t had five DUIs or an entire string of misdemeanors. Then I would think that most nursing schools honestly would not care at all.
Getting Into a Nursing Program with Past Record
A nursing school wouldn’t want to bring a nurse into the program when they know whatever that nurse did will likely preclude them from getting a license, which makes the school look bad. For the most part, the schools are fine with misdemeanors and to move it forward. After you graduate from nursing schools and move on to get licensed by a board of nursing. And I can say specifically since I deal with the Arizona Board of Nursing. I can’t think of a time when a nurse had one or two misdemeanors in their past. And they didn’t end up getting a license in one way or the other.
It’s when you get into felonies that the boards take a much higher level of scrutiny. And depending upon the timing of the felony could, it could stop you from getting a license.
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