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In California, state professional licensing agencies are permitted to take disciplinary actions against licensees who are convicted of criminal offenses. The California State Bar is the licensing agency responsible for licensing attorneys and imposing discipline where appropriate. Many attorneys and prospective attorneys who are arrested for DUI offenses are concerned about what effect a potential conviction will have on their ability to practice law in the state of California.
California Business and Professions Code Section 490 provides the California State Bar with the authority to discipline attorneys who are convicted of crimes that are substantially related to the qualifications, functions or duties of the practice of law. The Business and Professions Code further requires attorneys to self-report an indictment or complaint filed in connection with a felony or any conviction of a felony or misdemeanor committed in the course of the practice of law, or in a manner in which a client was the victim or a crime involving dishonesty or moral turpitude.
Usually, a first-time conviction for DUI is not considered an offense that would trigger a reporting requirement. However, if the DUI offense was committed while on a suspended or revoked driver’s license or if the driver is also accused of hit and run, the offense would be considered a crime of moral turpitude that would be subject to self-reporting.
When an attorney is arrested and has his or her fingerprints entered into LiveScan, the State Bar will be notified of the arrest and will typically contact the attorney. The State Bar may request that the attorney provide a statement regarding the arrest. This request should not be ignored, as a failure to respond may be viewed by the State Bar as evidence of the attorney’s lack of cooperation or lack of remorse.
The State Bar will often elect not to impose any discipline for an attorney’s first time DUI conviction if they have a clean criminal and disciplinary record. However, there are a number of aggravating factors that may trigger administrative action, even where the defendant has no prior DUI convictions. Where the defendant was under the influence of drugs or had an extremely high blood alcohol content, the State Bar may find it necessary to impose discipline. Generally, the State Bar will take disciplinary action against an attorney who commits a second or subsequent DUI offense. Any attorney in this situation may want to enroll in a drug or alcohol rehab program, as California Business and Professions Code Section 482 requires that the State Bar consider any and all competent evidence of the attorney’s rehabilitation that is provided.
In addition, anyone who is studying to be a lawyer should be aware that a DUI conviction can affect the applicant’s State Bar eligibility. All attorney applicants must pass a Moral Character evaluation and a conviction for DUI can delay one’s State Bar admission. This is especially true where the defendant has not taken demonstrable steps to address potential drug or alcohol addiction issues.