Unauthorized Practice of Medicine

One of the most difficult professions is that of a medical doctor. Before you can practice medicine, they must have undergone the necessary training and obtained a professional license from the licensing body. In California, practicing medicine with no valid license is an offense severely punished under the Business and Professions Code 2052. The state has the mandate to protect its citizens from the danger of getting medical treatment from an unauthorized person.

If accused of practicing medicine without authorization, a conviction will result in adverse consequences, including those to your career. Jail time and hefty fines are part of the punishments you receive from the state for this offense. If faced with these allegations, you can fight them through the help of a lawyer from The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney.

Defining Unauthorized Practice of Medicine According to the Law

If you are accused of practicing medicine without authorization in California, it means you are engaged in one of the below activities. Yet, you have no valid license to do so. These activities are:

  • Practicing or trying to practice, advertise or purporting to treat any type of an affliction or sickness,
  • Identifying or diagnosing, operating on, treating or prescribing medicine for ailments, blemishes, diseases, deformities, disorders, injuries, disfigurement or other mental and physical conditions,
  • Plotting with or assisting and protecting a person in carrying out the activities discussed above.

In understanding this law, it is critical to highlight a few terms or phrases used in it. Some of these include:

No Bodily Injuries or Sickness Required

When defining the practice of unauthorized medicine, to be found guilty of the offense, a patient does not have to be injured or harmed by the illegal practice. Additionally, the prosecutor is not required to show that you intended to cause harm or injuries to your patients. In a nutshell, the crime of practicing medicine without authority does not require a victim for the perpetrator to get severely punished.

For instance, if you are an immigrant and you were a renowned doctor in your country, it is illegal for you to practice medicine in America without a valid license from the state. Even when you offer basic consultation and charge for it, your intentions are good, and no one may get injured from your practice. However, your activities are illegal. As a result, you will be prosecuted for illegally practicing medicine and get severely punished.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The practice of unauthorized medicine consists of diagnosing or treating any mental or physical ailment without a license. Diagnosis, according to the law, means the use of any devices, methods, or procedures to establish whether a person is sick either physically or mentally. Under this, using blood pressure devices or other such machines is also prohibited. However, taking the weight of a person or measuring their height is not illegal.

Treatment, in this case, includes all the recognized medical practices such as prescribing medications or giving injections. Equally, practicing unconventional treatment like acupuncture or hypnosis without a license is also prohibited.

For instance, if you hold no professional license as a medical practitioner, but you advertise to offer weight loss services through hypnosis, this is illegal. Under Business and Professions Code 2052, you will be guilty of practicing medicine without legal authorization.

A Mental or Physical Condition

If you treat any mental or physical condition aside from those easily recognized diseases, illnesses, or injuries, you will be violating the law.

For instance, if you are not licensed to practice midwifery, you cannot offer your services to women carrying normal pregnancies. This means, even when a woman doesn’t require medical intervention during birth, it is illegal for you to assist her when you charge for the services. Arguably, normal childbirth or pregnancy is not an affliction or sickness, but they are physical conditions according to the law. This means, for you to offer your midwifery services for a fee, you must have a license, failure to which you will be practicing without authorization.

In California

The law that prohibits practicing medicine without authorization, as found in Business and Professions Code 2052, is only applicable in California. This means, other states have their laws regarding practicing medicine without authorization, but in California, it is unlawful.

Generally, according to the law, even when you are a licensed doctor in the United States, you must have a California medical license to treat a patient in California. If you go ahead and treat a resident of California when you are not a holder of a California medical license, you could face charges for practicing medicine without authorization.

For instance, Peter is a medical doctor licensed to practice in Colorado, but not California. Mary resides in California. She develops a condition where she needs prescription medicine. Mary decides to visit a website offering online prescriptions and fills a questionnaire on her symptoms.

The questionnaire is sent to Peter in Florida, who is paid by the website as their consulting doctor. After looking at the answers Mary provided, he prescribes Mary and emails it. If this happens, Peter has practiced medicine without authorization in California and will face prosecution for the offense. If, however, he had a California license to practice medicine, he would not be accused of the offense even when he is in Florida.

Owning a Medical Practice When You are Not a Medical Practitioner

In California, it is unlawful for a person without a medical practicing license to own or run a medical clinic or practice. This means even if you do not perform the medical procedures yourself and you have a licensed doctor in your employ, it is still a violation of the law.

For instance, Mark owns a clinic specializing in performing medical exams for persons looking for worker’s compensation claims. Mark is not a doctor but hires James, a licensed doctor, to perform the procedures instead.

Mark, in this case, is guilty of practicing medicine illegally because he owns and receives profits from a medical clinic when not a licensed doctor.

Equally, James is also in violation of the Business and Professions Code 2052 of California. In this case, he will be accused of assisting and facilitating unlicensed medical practice by Mark.

Penalties for Unauthorized Medical Practice

When charged with this violation, the prosecutor can charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor offense. The decision by the prosecutor is based on:

  • Elements of the offense, like whether a person was harmed or got sick as a result of the perpetrator’s actions and
  • Criminal background of the defendant

If the offense is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, the penalties if convicted include:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • County jail imprisonment not exceeding a year
  • Monetary fine not exceeding $1,000

A penalty conviction on this offense carries the following penalties:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • County imprisonment for 16, or 24, or 36 months
  • A fine not exceeding $10,000 in addition to or instead of the prison term

Civil Liability for Unlawful Practice of Medicine

Aside from the criminal prosecution you face and penalties, a perpetrator of this offense can face a civil suit from disgruntled clients. If any person was injured or harmed by your illegal practice of medicine, he or she could seek damages against you from the court.

The court may rule that you were negligent in providing such services without authorization, and awards the plaintiff punitive damages. Punitive damages, in most cases, are hefty with no insurance cover due to your lack of a license, destroying your financial life.

Factors to Consider Before Formulating a Defense

When accused of practicing medicine unlawfully, there are various factors your attorney will advise you as you formulate your defense. Your lawyer will assist with legal issues like the violation of your rights, maintenance of chain of custody concerning the evidence against you, and other issues in your defense. Even as your attorney is preparing your defense, there are key things that you must understand. These are:

  • Good intention is not a defense – It does not matter that your deeds resulted in an excellent job. According to the law, practicing medicine without a license is a violation even when the patient benefited from it. Additionally, even when no harm was intended, and your actions were to help the patient, you are still guilty of violating the law. Ironically, good results are not a defense, but injuring a patient enhances your penalties. If a patient was injured due to your actions, you would be charged with a felony that carries tougher penalties compared to a misdemeanor.
  • Providing routine services is not a defense – Some people will want to argue that the service they provided another was not medical, which is an incorrect argument. Your attorney will advise you on some of the services considered medical, even when you did not train as a doctor. For instance, you cannot practice acupuncture in California without a license. Similarly, you cannot offer midwifery services for a fee without a license. Talking to a lawyer before you offer any services is always advisable when you do not know which ones require a license to practice.

Legal Defenses for Unauthorized Practice of Medicine

If accused of practicing medicine illegally, the crime is typically categorized as a white-collar offense. Regardless, the state takes this offense seriously because of the dangers posed to patients by the authorized practitioners.

Additionally, many horror stories are associated with this violation, even when the perpetrators were well-meaning and are law-abiding citizens. Unknowingly violating the rules on practicing medicine without a valid authorization or license will not excuse you from prosecution.

If faced with the allegations of illegal practice of medicine, your primary objective should be to overcome the charges against you. Engaging a criminal lawyer to fight the charges increases your chances of getting a favorable outcome and safeguarding yourself. After studying your case and the prosecutor’s evidence, your attorney will formulate suitable defenses in your favor. Some of the defenses include:

What You did Cannot be Defined as the Practice of Medicine

In the modern world today, it is increasingly difficult to define the practice of medicine. For instance, various healing traditions coming from various parts of the world are practiced in California. These practices are not similar to conventional western medicine that is commonly known. For instance, persons with health challenges work every day with personal trainers that recommend ways to overcome their health issues. Equally, consumers search every day for new and cheaper alternatives to their health challenges.

It is possible to face allegations of practicing medicine illegally, while what you do cannot be defined under the traditional practice of medicine. In such a case, your experienced criminal attorney will help you argue your case and prove that you are not guilty of the unauthorized practice of medicine.

False Accusations

False allegations are common in criminal cases. Individuals making false allegations have their reasons why they do it, with the most common reason being revenge for something. If you are falsely accused of practicing medicine without authorization, you will be subjected to wrongful prosecution. This would also result in a possible wrongful conviction for the offense.

If you are not a medical professional, you may have a past client that was unhappy and misunderstood the services you offer to be medical. Because they want to get revenge on you, they can falsely accuse you of practicing medicine, when you have no authorization to do so. Additionally, if you had a business partner or a colleague that you disagreed with, he or she can make false allegations against you.

Most criminal lawyers have dealt with false allegations, and with their experience, they know the questions to ask to collect evidence that supports the truth and exposes the lies. Additionally, your attorney will present witnesses and experts to testify on your behalf and defeat the allegations against you.

You are a Member of a Self Help Group

There are groups that individuals form, and they offer each other advice or suggestions for treatments or remedies when faced with a specific condition. These are not medical groups or licensed groups to practice medicine. However, if your advice was just according to what you do in the group, it does not constitute the practice of medicine. If you belong to such a group, your attorney will show this to the court by calling other members as witnesses on your behalf. If this argument convinces the court, then the charges against you are dismissed.

You did not Profit from the Services

Sometimes, you may have offered your services to help a person in need without charging them. For instance, you may have stopped practicing medicine, but you come across a person injured and needing help. If you assist them, it is not illegal. However, if you offer your services to them at a fee when you no longer have a practicing license, you are guilty of violating the law. Your lawyer can argue that you merely assisted a person in need and did not charge for the services. If this is shown satisfactorily, the charges against you are dismissed.

Equally, if you used to practice midwifery and changed your career, you can still help someone in need. Supposing you come across a woman in labor and you assist them in delivering their baby before assistance arrives, you cannot be charged with this violation provided you never profited from the help.

Unauthorized Medical Marijuana Practice

Although the use of marijuana for recreational purposes was legalized in 2018 for individuals above 21 years, it is illegal to practice medical marijuana without authorization. Using marijuana for medicinal purposes was approved under the Compassionate Use Act (CUA).

Under this act, not everyone can practice medical marijuana or is entitled to use marijuana for medical purposes. The laws of practicing medicine without authorization and the practice of medicine intertwine and can cause one to get in trouble. For instance, if you own a marijuana dispensary and employ a doctor to diagnose and prescribe marijuana to your patients, you are violating the law. When you are not a medical practitioner in California licensed to offer marijuana medical advice, you cannot run this type of a dispensary.

Both the doctor, under your employ, and yourself face possible prosecution for operating a clinic without a professional license. The licensed doctor will, on the other hand, face charges for helping and facilitating the practice of an illegal clinic.

Examples of Unauthorized Medical Practice

There are many areas that one can get charged with illegally practicing medicine in California. Some of these are:

  • When you are an immigrant to the United States, and you practiced medicine in your country of origin and offered the same services in California without obtaining a medical license
  • If you are a herbalist and you advertise that you have the cure for cancer or other ailments
  • If you have a degree in nursing only and you charge to perform abortions
  • If you own or operate a medical facility yet, you have no medical training or license
  • If you are a licensed physician, but you practice in a facility or clinic owned by persons without a medical license. Even though your license is valid, you face charges of aiding and abetting the illegal practice. This kind of violation can also earn you a suspension or revocation of your professional license.
  • You are also charged with violating the law even when you are a licensed doctor from another state that offers treatment or diagnosis to a resident of California. This is a common practice via the internet, where websites are created to offer treatment for various ailments online. If you have no California license to practice medicine, you cannot treat a resident without it.
  • You will also face these charges if your license to practice medicine was revoked or suspended, and you continue to treat your patients.
  • If you are a licensed doctor, but you employ an unlicensed medical practitioner to treat or diagnose patients.
  • Doctors have areas that they specialize in and get trained for. If you practice in an area where you are not specialized in or trained for without a licensed physician in that area supervising you, it is unlawful. In such a case, you will face the charges of unauthorized practice of medicine.

Besides the above, if you are unlicensed and perform the peripheral activities below, you can also get charged with violating the law. These are:

  • Determining what tests should be performed on a patient
  • Determining the referring of a patient to another doctor
  • Managing or controlling a patient’s treatment and care
  • Controlling the number of patients a doctor can see
  • Employing or firing nurses, doctors, or other medical staff on medical proficiency

Using Titles or Letters Without Authority

Some individuals use titles carelessly without considering the legal implications. It is illegal to use the following titles or letters when not a licensed physician in California on your letterhead, business card, or to advertise. These are:

  • Doctor as the word
  • Physician as the word
  • prefix
  • D. initials
  • Any terms, letters, or words that imply you are a licensed doctor

Commonly Asked Questions

Concerning the practice of medicine, there are various questions asked by individuals facing these allegations. Some of these are:

If a medical assistant, can you face Professions Code 2052 violation charges?

Typically, medical assistants are unlicensed. Their work is only to carry out administrative duties or support services. However, if you diagnose or treat a patient, you can face charges for violating Professions Code 2052 in California.

If you facilitate a silicone party or run one, are you violating Professions Code 2052?

Yes. This is true even when you are the one doing the silicone injections. Irrespective of the size of the cosmetic procedure, you will still require licensing.

Are there consequences for referring a patient to see an unlicensed physician?

Yes. According to Professions Code 2052, if you conspire, assist or facilitate an illegal medical practice, you face these charges. When you refer a patient to such a clinic or a doctor knowingly, you violate Professions Code 2052. However, if you did not know the doctor was unlicensed or was practicing medicine illegally, then you are innocent of the allegations.

Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me

When charged with the illegal practice of medicine, you must find a good defense lawyer to clear the misunderstanding, get the charges dismissed, or get favorable sentencing. Whatever your objective may be, an experienced criminal attorney will assist you in achieving this objective. At The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney, we are passionate about representing our clients faced with these or similar allegations. Call us at 310-564-2605 and talk to us today.

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