Can a Lawyer Be Disbarred for a California DUI?
A DUI in California can be problematic for many reasons. A drunk driving conviction results in criminal penalties. However, the conviction can also negatively affect your career, especially if you hold a professional license. Lawyers are licensed by the California State Bar. If they commit a crime, it could impact their attorney’s license. A Lawyer arrested for driving under the influence should seek advice from experienced California DUI attorneys.
Can You Be a Lawyer with a DUI in California?
The good news is that a first-time misdemeanor DUI conviction should not keep you from becoming a lawyer or maintaining your attorney’s license. However, multiple DUIs and cases involving aggravating factors could result in sanctions and other disciplinary actions. If the police arrested you for DUI, contact our California DUI lawyers for a free consultation. Let us help you protect your law license.
Understanding Discipline and Reporting Requirements for Lawyer DUIs
Lawyers have a duty to report certain conduct to the State Bar. Failing to report required conduct can result in losing your attorney’s license. Therefore, it is crucial for lawyers to understand the mandatory reporting requirements for lawyer DUIs.
1. What Entity or Organization Regulates Lawyers in California?
California lawyers are regulated by the State Bar of California. The State Bar is an administrative entity of the California Supreme Court. The California Supreme Court makes the final discipline decisions regarding attorneys. However, the Supreme Court defers to the recommendations made by the State Bar Court.
2. Does a Criminal Charge Result in Attorney Discipline?
Attorneys are not required to report a criminal charge. Self-reporting is only required under the following circumstances:
- An indictment or information is bought charging you with a felony;
- A misdemeanor conviction of a crime that involves the practice of law or when the client was the victim;
- A misdemeanor conviction for a criminal offense involving moral turpitude or the attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit a crime of moral turpitude; or
- A felony conviction.
The State Bar does not initiate discipline proceeds or begin a disciplinary investigation when an attorney is arrested or charged with a criminal offense. However, it begins the investigation and disciplinary proceedings after a criminal court convicts a lawyer of a crime or the lawyer enters a guilty plea or plea of no contest.
3. What is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude?
California attorneys convicted of misdemeanors or felonies of moral turpitude can be disbarred or suspended from the practice of law. Crimes of moral turpitude involve attorneys being dishonest or engaging in vile, base, or depraved conduct that is shocking to a reasonable person.
Examples of crimes that the State Bar Court or Supreme Court has identified as crimes of moral turpitude include:
- Grand theft of client funds;
- Mail fraud;
- Attempted lewd act on a minor;
- Vehicular manslaughter;
- Federal securities fraud;
- Solicitation to commit assault on a former client; and
- Contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Other crimes could be considered crimes of moral turpitude. The State Bar Court or Supreme Court decides what conduct indicates an attorney is unfit to practice law.
4. What Is “Other Misconduct” Warranting Discipline?
The Supreme Court might take disciplinary action against attorneys for “other misconduct.” The Court uses the facts and circumstances of the case to decide if the lawyer’s conduct justifies discipline. Crimes that the court has previously found warranting attorney discipline include:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
- Violations of the concealed weapons law
- Domestic violence convictions
- Failing to pay payroll taxes
- Willfully failing to file income tax returns
If the court finds that a lawyer has violated a law that warrants disciplinary action, the court may take whatever action it deems appropriate, including warnings and disbarments.
5. How Does the Disciplinary Process/Discipline System Work With a Conviction?
The State Bar conducts an initial review when it receives notice of a criminal conviction. The review determines if the criminal offense is a crime of moral turpitude or other misconduct warranting discipline. The initial review of the charges could take several weeks.
If the initial review concludes that the criminal conviction could warrant discipline, the State Bar conducts a detailed investigation. The matter is closed if the investigation does not conclude that discipline is justified. However, if the investigation reveals conduct that could warrant discipline, the State Bar sends the case to the State Bar Court.
6. What Happens at a State Bar Court Hearing?
The State Bar Court schedules a hearing to determine if the attorney committed a crime of moral turpitude or other conduct that warrants discipline. If so, the State Bar Court decides what discipline to impose on the attorney.
The hearing is a formal proceeding before a State Bar Court Judge. The State Bar presents the case arguing that the criminal conviction warrants discipline. The State Bar may also argue that aggravating circumstances warrant a harsher punishment. The lawyer can present evidence of mitigating factors that could help lessen the disciplinary action.
The State Bar Court Judge decides the case based on the evidence presented during the hearing. The burden of proof is by a preponderance of the evidence, which is a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt used for the criminal trial.
7. Examples of Disciplinary Action for Lawyers Convicted of Crimes
The State Bar Court Judge may impose sanctions including:
- A formal reproval or reprimand
- Suspension of the attorney’s bar license
- Disbarment of the attorney
Attorneys or the State Bar can request a review of the judge’s decision. The State Bar Review Department or the California Supreme Court conducts the review.
8. Can Someone With Criminal Convictions Apply for a License to Practice Law?
Good moral character is a requirement to obtain a bar license in California. Therefore, if a person has a criminal record, their application to practice law could be denied. On the other hand, showing proof of rehabilitation can sway the State Bar into approving a person’s bar application. In addition, the State Bar could consider mitigating factors in light of a criminal history.
What Can Happen to a Lawyer After a DUI Conviction?
A DUI generally does not rise to the level of a crime of moral turpitude. However, the State Bar Court could consider a DUI a criminal offense that warrants disciplinary action. The American Bar Association (ABA) explains that, except for single DUI case in Colorado, a single misdemeanor DUI conviction without any aggravating factors or other criminal offenses has not typically been sufficient to violate Rule 8.4(b) of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct in most jurisdictions unless:
- The attorney has multiple DUI offenses
- There are additional non-DUI offenses
- The attorney’s behavior negatively affects the clients
- The attorney causes death or injury because they were drinking and driving
However, the decision regarding DUIs and disciplinary action varies by state. Furthermore, the facts and circumstances of the case are considerable factors in determining whether the state might discipline a lawyer for a drunk driving conviction.
Penalties for Multiple DUI Convictions in California
The State Bar may revoke a lawyer’s bar license if the attorney is a repeat offender for DUI offenses. The State Bar Court could also take other actions. Multiple DUIs can indicate a substance abuse problem. Therefore, the State Bar must act to protect the public from a lawyer who has a substance abuse problem.
However, attorneys may avoid losing their bar licenses if they have evidence of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation would include attending and completing a substance abuse treatment program and cooperating with any rehabilitation requirements imposed by the State Bar.
Some of the potential outcomes for multiple DUI convictions for a lawyer include, but are not limited to:
Resignation With Discipline Charges Pending
The lawyer may voluntarily resign from the State Bar of California during a pending proceeding or investigation. If the attorney applies to be reinstated, the disciplinary matters could be considered at that time.
Interim Suspension Following Criminal Convictions
An attorney may be temporarily suspended from practicing law if the conviction is for a crime that involves moral turpitude or other conduct warranting discipline. The State Bar Court decides the degree of discipline to impose on the lawyer upon completion of the lawyer’s criminal case.
Involuntary Inactive Enrollment
The Court may place the attorney on involuntary inactive enrollment. The attorney cannot practice law while on inactive enrollment.
Further Discipline for Failing To Comply With a Previous Order
The State Bar Court or the California Supreme Court may suspend the attorney from the practice of law or disbar the lawyer for failing to comply with the requirements set by either court in previous disciplinary orders.
Suspension or Probation
The State Bar Court could suspend the attorney from the practice of law for a specific period. The suspension may include conditions of probation. The lawyer cannot practice law during the suspension.
When the State Bar Court or the Supreme Court disbars a lawyer, the Supreme Court removes the attorney’s name from the list of California attorneys, and they cannot practice law.
Common Questions About Attorneys And DUI Convictions In California
The best way for a lawyer to protect his bar license after a DUI arrest is to hire an experienced California DUI defense lawyer. Some common questions that our DUI lawyers receive from California attorneys after an arrest for impaired driving are:
DUI and a State Bar License – What Happens if You’re Arrested for A DUI?
Unless the police charge you with felony DUI, you do not have to report the arrest to the State Bar. However, you need to hire a DUI attorney and fight the charges. You want to avoid a conviction if possible. To do that, you need an aggressive defense team that understands DUI laws.
DUI and a State Bar License – What Happens if You Are Convicted of a DUI?
You may or may not be required to report the conviction based on the facts of the case. Take whatever steps are necessary to determine your reporting requirements. You may or may not receive jail time for the conviction. It depends on the county, the specific offense, your criminal history, and whether or not there are aggravating circumstances.
In addition to a jail sentence, the judge could suspend your driver’s license (in addition to the administrative license suspension by the California Department of Motor Vehicles). The judge imposes a fine and assessments. You may also be required to attend DUI school, serve three years of DUI probation, and install an ignition interlock device.
DUI and a State Bar License – Will an Expungement Help?
You can apply for DUI expungement under California Penal Code §1203.4. The court removes or “expunges” the DUI conviction from your record. However, an expunged DUI within 10 years counts against you as a prior offense if you get another drinking and driving charge. Also, you must disclose expunged convictions to the State Bar.
DUI and a State Bar License – Will A DUI Prevent You From Being Licensed?
A single misdemeanor DUI conviction generally does not prevent you from being licensed as a lawyer in California. However, suppose the DUI case includes aggravating factors or circumstances that negatively reflect on moral character. In that case, the Bar could deny the application based on a lack of moral fitness to practice law.
DUI and a State Bar License – What Are the State Bar Reporting Requirements?
An attorney is not required to report being arrested. However, self-reporting is required under the following circumstances:
- You are charged with or convicted of a felony offense
- The conviction involves the practice of law or harm to a client
- A conviction for a crime that involves moral turpitude
The State Bar will likely be notified of the arrest. Therefore, follow all self-reporting requirements. Failure to report as required can cause more problems and harsher penalties.
DUI and a State Bar License – What Happens With Second Dui Convictions?
As discussed above, a second DUI is a problem for an attorney. Multiple DUIs indicate a substance abuse problem. You need to aggressively fight the DUI charge. Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to show the State Bar Court that you have taken steps to rehabilitate so that you are fit to practice law.
Get Help From a California DUI Defense Attorney
Regardless of your area of practice, a lawyer charged with a crime should have legal representation from another attorney. Schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced DUI attorney.
Talk To A DUI Defense Attorney
You may have defenses to felony charges or may be able to get them reduced to a misdemeanor or “wet reckless” charges. An experienced attorney can evaluate your case and discuss your options with you. A lawyer serving DUI clients will often offer a free no obligation consultation and everything discussed is protected by the attorney client relationship.
Schedule a free consultation with one of our expert California DUI attorneys here.
Interested in this topic or want to learn more about DUIs in California? Check out our recent article about whether or not a DUI charge could lead to termination of employment, and other related articles on our blog, which is updated regularly!
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