Many Americans don’t think much of getting behind the wheel after having a drink or two. Yet driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious criminal offense — and represents a danger to others on the road.
While a DUI can lead to severe penalties for anyone convicted of this crime, for registered nurses, the potential consequences are devastating. Not only do nurses face sentencing from a criminal court, but they risk the loss of their professional license. This is a possibility even in cases where a nurse is not ultimately convicted of DUI.
In this sense, the cost of a DUI is astronomical for a nurse. There are also very real financial and emotional costs associated with a DUI for nurses.
What Happens When a Nurse Is Charged with a DUI?
For nurses, being arrested for or charged with DUI will result in a two-part process. First, the nurse must deal with the criminal justice system. Second, the nurse must face the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) as it relates to their professional license.
If convicted of a DUI, a nurse — or any Californian — will face a range of penalties. Depending on the facts of the case and whether it is a first or greater offense, a DUI sentence may include steep fines and fees, probation and/or jail time, a driver’s license suspension, mandatory drug or alcohol education classes, and alcohol education classes. There are also collateral consequences to a DUI conviction, such as increased insurance costs and the impact on a professional license.
After a DUI arrest, charge or conviction, the BRN will typically make contact with a nurse. In many cases, the California Department of Justice will notify the BRN that a nurse has been convicted of a drug or alcohol-related offense. Registered nurses are also legally obligated to report criminal convictions to the BRN, so self-reporting may trigger Board involvement.
The BRN may offer a nurse the opportunity to participate in its Intervention Program. This is a confidential program administered by a third party with the goal of helping nurses who are struggling with mental health or addiction issues. Upon successful completion, a complaint against a nurse for issues related to substance abuse is not pursued.
While an intervention may be the right choice for some nurses, it is designed to help professionals who have addiction issues — which is not necessarily the case for every person charged with a DUI. It is a rigorous 3-to-5 year program that requires a nurse to be temporarily removed from practice and to undergo extensive treatment and counseling. Nearly all costs of the program are borne by the nurse — making it an expensive option.
If a nurse declines to participate in the Intervention Program, then the BRN will continue the investigation. It will typically send a letter to a nurse, requesting documents relating to the criminal matter, including an explanation of what happened. If this request is made before the final resolution of the criminal case, a nurse should consult with a seasoned California nurse license defense attorney to seek advice on balancing their right against self-incrimination with the need to answer the Board.
Assuming that a nurse pleads guilty or is convicted of a DUI, then they are required to report the matter to the BRN and explain the situation in detail. The Board will examine the evidence and refer the case to the Office of the Attorney General for review. A decision will then be made as to whether to file formal charges, known as an Accusation.
The decision to file an Accusation for a DUI conviction will depend on factors such as the severity of the offense, the level of intoxication, and whether it is a first or greater offense. In recent years, the BRN has adopted stricter enforcement measures for nurses who are accused or convicted of DUIs. For any case involving a DUI arrest or conviction, even a first-time offense with low blood alcohol concentration (BAC), it is possible that an Accusation will be filed.
If an Accusation is filed, then a nurse can either fight the charge at an administrative hearing or accept the charge and disciplinary action. Possible disciplinary action for a DUI conviction includes revocation and/or revocation with probation.
The Costs of Being Charged with a DUI as a Nurse
For a nurse charged with a DUI, the total cost can be astronomical. Not only do you risk losing your license — and therefore your livelihood — but you will spend thousands of dollars out of pocket defending yourself. This money will be well spent, however, if you can (1) reduce or avoid criminal penalties and (2) keep your professional license.
Resolving the Criminal Charge
The cost of a DUI conviction can vary based on where you live, the experience of your attorney, and the charge involved. The complexity of your case will also factor into the overall expense.
First, hiring a lawyer will likely cost anywhere from $3,500 to $7,500 for the criminal matter. You will want to hire someone who is familiar with this area of the law, which is surprisingly complex.
Second, you will be required to pay a range of court costs and fees. For a first-time DUI conviction in California, you will be required to pay fines, Court costs, and penalty assessments, which average roughly $2,200. These fees increase for second and greater offenses, and for more serious DUI charges.
Third, there are a number of indirect costs associated with a DUI conviction. A first-time DUI conviction in California can include the following expenses:
- Towing or impound fee: $200 or more, depending on location
- Cost of a DUI treatment program: $600 or more, depending on the length and
- Insurance premium increase: several thousand dollars
- Department of Motor Vehicles license reinstatement fee: $125
- Cost of installing an ignition interlock device: $75 to $100, plus approximately $2.50 per day
- Cost of SCRAM Ankle Monitoring
In addition, you may lose income while working and have to pay for a taxi or an Uber or Lyft to get places while your license is suspended — all of which can add up quickly. Excluding lost income, increased insurance premiums and other miscellaneous costs, defending a DUI charge may cost a minimum of $10,000. It may cost two to three times as much for more serious or complicated cases.
Handling Licensing Issues
In addition to the criminal case, you will also be facing substantial expenses when it comes to protecting your professional license. There are two primary costs associated with BRN licensing issues: hiring an attorney and paying the expenses associated with investigation and enforcement.
The fee charged by a skilled nursing license defense attorney will depend on factors such as the complexity of your case and whether you have a prior history of disciplinary action. Generally, you should budget a minimum of $5,000 for your lawyer. If the case goes on for an extended period of time, it may become more costly.
If you are subject to disciplinary action by the Board, then you may be required to participate in its Cost Recovery Program. Nurses who are placed on probation must agree to a payment plan to repay the BRN for the costs expended during the investigation and enforcement process. Nurses whose licenses are suspended or revoked may be required to repay these costs as a condition of reinstatement.
An experienced attorney may be able to negotiate a reduction in the total costs owed — or may be able to avoid disciplinary action that will trigger participation in the Cost Recovery Program. While hiring a lawyer may be expensive, it is usually a smart investment in protecting your license.
Beyond the financial aspect, being arrested for a DUI and hauled in front of the BRN takes a psychological toll. Going to jail, being arraigned and having to participate in the criminal justice system as a defendant can be humiliating. In the same way, getting a letter from the Board that states that you are under investigation can shatter you emotionally.
Your mental health is critical to your overall well-being. The cost of a DUI to a nurse must include how it impacts your sense of self and your levels of stress and anxiety. After spending years obtaining the education and training to become a registered nurse and building your career, you may lose it all because of one bad decision.
In these situations, you need a compassionate advocate who understands that good nurses make mistakes sometimes. Although it may not seem fair, a DUI charge has much more significant consequences for a nurse than it does for most people. That is why it is so important to have a highly experienced nurse license defense attorney to represent you and defend your interests.
Attorney Nicole Irmer is the founder and managing partner of the Law Office of Nicole Irmer. Based in San Diego County, Ms. Irmer represents nurses and other healthcare professionals throughout California on issues related to professional licensing defense and complex Driving Under the Influence cases.