Florida law imposes strict penalties on drivers who are convicted of DUI. All drivers face administrative license suspensions, and criminal penalties that include potential jail sentences, fines, alcohol education programs, mandatory ignition interlock devices, and probation. But licensed medical professionals are subject to additional penalties and professional discipline by the state board responsible for policing the competence and good conduct of medical practitioners.
When a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other licensed medical professional is facing a DUI charge, their entire professional career and livelihood is in jeopardy. Getting the most qualified, experienced criminal defense lawyer who concentrates in DUI defense is imperative to protect the medical license that was the result of years of study and hard work.
At Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law, we have extensive experience representing medical and other professional license holders in DUI cases. Our expertise in providing the highest quality DUI defense developed over the course of many years focusing on the law as it relates to DUI. With experience as both DUI prosecutor and long-time DUI defense lawyers, our criminal defense lawyers earned their reputation as skilled courtroom advocates in DUI cases.
If you need DUI defense in Hillsborough County or Pinellas County, contact the Law Firm of Stechschulte Nell.
Why Does DUI Pose a Threat to Medical Licenses?
The ability to practice medicine or to provide healthcare services to the public is a highly regulated profession. The skills required to deliver quality healthcare services to patients are such that offering those services while impaired threatens the health and safety of the entire community.
Not every person charged with DUI who holds a license to practice medicine, pharmacy, or nursing poses a continuing threat to their patient’s health.
A DUI may be the result of an isolated, unintentional overindulgence. But licensing boards do not have the ability to distinguish which case involves a one-time lapse from a person whose substance use disorder represents a chronic risk of serious harm to patients.
That’s why Florida law empowers state medical licensing authorities to mandate the timely reporting of every case in which a person with a medical license is “convicted or found guilty of, or entering a plea of nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, a crime in any jurisdiction which directly relates to the practice of medicine or the ability to practice medicine.”
The Florida Board of Medicine and Healthcare Practitioner Licensing may deny, suspend, revoke, or otherwise censure an applicant for or the holder of a Florida medical or healthcare provider license if an investigation reveals the person’s ability to practice their profession with “reasonable skill and safety.”
The licensing authority’s discipline can also be imposed on any other licensee who fails to report a practitioner they know or reasonably suspect was determined to be driving under the influence or struggling with a substance use disorder.
Defending a Medical Professional’s DUI Charge
In Florida, there are two theories by which a prosecutor can seek to convict a driver. The law provides that it is illegal to:
- drive or be in physical control of a vehicle when under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or another specified chemical substance when affected to the extent that the driver’s normal faculties are impaired,
- drive or be in physical control of a vehicle with a blood alcohol content or breath alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 or higher.
However, the tactics and procedures used by police to detect, investigate, and process a DUI suspect need to comply with a relatively detailed set of specific criteria. After years of experience both prosecuting and defending DUI case in Florida, the lawyers at Stechschulte Nell, Attorneys at Law are among the most highly skilled DUI defense lawyers in the Hillsborough and Pinellas County region.
By relying on the professional skill of board-certified criminal defense lawyers, a DUI need not derail a doctor’s or other healthcare professional’s career.
Challenging the Procedures and the Evidence in a DUI Prosecution
Before a police officer may legally conduct a traffic stop of a suspected DUI driver, the officer must have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a violation of the law has occurred. The officer cannot simply act on a hunch.
Law enforcement can only conduct an “investigatory detention” when they can identify the specific grounds for their suspicion. Typically, that suspicion is based on a vehicle’s erratic movements, unsafe lane shifting, tailgating, speeding, failing to obey a traffic control light or stop sign, or even traveling at an unusual or unsafe slow speed.
During the personal interaction with the driver, the officer is looking for indications of intoxication, such as slurred speech, unresponsive answers to questions, irrational behavior, lack of dexterity in handling their documents, and a strong odor of alcohol or cannabis. The officer needs to obtain some evidence that would then justify their requesting the driver to perform a series of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).
Field Sobriety Tests
Scientists at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a group of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) that could be used on the roadside to detect signs of impairment in a driver consistent with a high level of blood alcohol content. For law enforcement, these SFSTs are essential to gather sufficient evidence against the driver that gives the officer probable cause to arrest them for DUI.
Without the field sobriety test scores, police are left with only general observations of the driver and their behavior, often too little to sustain a DUI conviction.
No Florida driver is required to submit to field sobriety tests.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests and Medical License Discipline
Understanding the significance of field sobriety tests is important for all drivers, but especially so for medical professionals. The SFSTs provide what medical discipline boards generally accept as convincing evidence supporting the DUI accusation and giving rise to genuine concern about the license holder’s judgment, mental health, and chemical dependency.
Given the high stress under which so many busy medical professionals perform, it is not unusual for some to turn to alcohol or other substances to provide relief. This behavior poses a serious risk that the medical practitioner will have impaired judgment or perception when they treat patients. Whether occasional or chronic, interacting with patients or assessing their medical information while impaired can result in misdiagnoses, inappropriate prescriptions, negligent surgical procedures, or worse.
Defending a DUI v. Recovering from Medical License Suspension
Following the Florida Medical Licensing Board’s disciplinary suspension of a medical professional’s license, the license can be reinstated when the board finds the person can resume the competent practice of medicine with reasonable skill and safety to patients. And the board is required to provide periodic opportunities for the licensee to demonstrate their recovery.
But avoiding the need to appear before the board is better than recovering a medical license after suspension.
Learn More > Will Having a DUI Affect a Teaching License?
Tampa DUI Defense
Any medical license holder, doctor, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, or another professional charged with a DUI should immediately contact the skilled, experienced DUI defense lawyer near them.
We are ready to defend your case and protect your professional license. Call Stechschulte Nell for a free DUI case review today at 813-280-1244.
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