The impact of criminal charges on discipline by a Massachusetts board of professional registration for licensed health care professionals (“Board”) is necessarily analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, a high-level understanding of the potential dispositions for criminal matters in Massachusetts district courts can be valuable knowledge for such professionals.
With limited exceptions, any individual accused of committing a misdemeanor in Massachusetts who is not arrested is entitled to a “show cause hearing,” which is frequently referred to as a “clerk’s hearing.” See M.G.L. c. 218, § 35A. The hearing enables a district court clerk magistrate to evaluate whether there is probable cause to believe that the accused has committed a crime. The complainant (who is often a police officer), witnesses, the accused, and the accused’s counsel may attend; judges and prosecutors do not participate. A favorable outcome of such a hearing – for Board purposes and otherwise – is a denial of the application for criminal complaint or an informal resolution of the matter prior to issuance of criminal charges. In either circumstance, the accused is never charged with a crime.
If the magistrate issues a criminal complaint following the show cause hearing, the accused will be provided with a date for an initial appearance before a judge, called an arraignment. An arraignment is the formal “charging” of the accused with a crime and is the stage at which the District Attorney’s Office becomes involved in the matter. If the accused is able to resolve a criminal matter with the District Attorney’s Office “prior to arraignment” – which might include payment of a fine or completion of community service – the accused will not have been officially “charged” with a crime, and he can report as much to the Board.
Even after arraignment, there are multiple opportunities to resolve a case before trial. Post-arraignment and pre-trial, the following dispositions are available in state district court criminal matters:
- Dismissal: A case may be dismissed by agreement upon payment of a fine or completion of community service.
- Pre-trial probation: Pre-trial probation is a lenient form of probation that does not require the defendant to admit guilt or admit that there are sufficient facts for a finding of guilt. A violation of the terms of pre-trial probation results in recommencement of criminal proceedings against the defendant. If the defendant successfully completes pre-trial probation, the matter is dismissed.
- Continuance without a finding (“CWOF”): A CWOF is a disposition whereby the defendant admits that there are sufficient facts for a finding of guilt, but the court does not enter a guilty finding on the record. The defendant is placed on probation for an enunciated period of time. If the defendant successfully completes probation, the matter is dismissed and the defendant may accurately relay to the Board or other entities that the defendant has not been “convicted” of a crime.
- Guilty finding: A “guilty” disposition is entered following a guilty verdict or a defendant’s plea of guilty. A guilty plea requires the defendant to admit to the essential elements of the crime charged. A guilty finding may be accompanied by a period of probation, a term of incarceration, or a combination.
Of course, the District Attorney’s Office’s willingness to agree to a specific disposition depends on the facts and circumstances of each individual criminal matter. Any health care professional facing potential charges in state district court should consult counsel and carefully weigh the options for resolving the case. The practitioner should do so with full awareness of the impact of any such resolution on potential future Board proceedings—and, therefore, on the practitioner’s career.