The Impact of a Felony Conviction on a Nursing License in Rhode Island

For certain individuals, punishment for criminal acts does not end in the courtroom.  Nurses, like other licensed professionals, may face additional repercussions for sustaining a criminal conviction.  Like in other states, nurses in Rhode Island are governed by a state board.  The Board of Nurse Registration and Nursing Education (the “Board”) is responsible for vetting nurses and enforcing rules that may impact nursing licenses.  Specifically, the Board has a duty to exclude individuals who pose a risk to public health and safety by virtue of a conviction[1] of certain crimes. 

Criminal Conviction Guidelines

The Board set forth Criminal Conviction Guidelines in 2001, stipulating those crimes that present an unreasonable risk to public health and safety.  As such, applications for licensure or renewal applications by nurses convicted of the crimes listed below will be denied in all cases unless the nurse can establish by clear and convincing evidence to the satisfaction of the Board that they have been rehabilitated and pose no threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

Crimes that result in a general denial of a RI nursing license include:

  • Felonies involving sexual misconduct where the victim’s failure to affirmatively consent is an element of the crime (i.e., forcible sexual assault);
  • Felonies involving the sexual, physical, or mental abuse of children, or the elderly or infirm;
  • Any crime in which the victim is a patient, client, or resident of a health care facility, including neglect, abuse, or financial exploitation;
  • Any crime resulting in incarceration, work release, probation, or parole;
  • Any crimes in the following categories unless at least 5 years have passed since the conviction or release from custodial confinement:
  • Serious crimes of violence against persons;
  • Crimes involving controlled substances or synthetics;
  • Serious crimes against property (i.e., grand larceny, embezzlement, or insurance fraud); or
  • Any other crime that involves sexual misconduct.

In determining whether an applicant has been rehabilitated and poses no threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public, information considered by the Board may include but is not limited to:

  • The seriousness of the crime;
  • Whether the crime relates directly to the training and skills of a nurse and the delivery of patient care;
  • How much time has elapsed since the crime was committed;
  • Whether the crime involved violence to or abuse of another person;
  • Whether the crime involved a minor or a person of diminished capacity; and
  • Whether the applicant’s actions and conduct since the crime occurred are consistent with the holding of a position of public interest.

Impact on New Applicants

The Board requires applicants for licensure to complete a statement concerning convictions.  Applicants who have been convicted of a crime are required to submit court-related documents, such as a certified copy of the judgement and disposition forms, parole certificates and any of information necessary to evaluate the prior conviction.  Applicants with convictions relating to alcohol and/or substance abuse will be required to submit evidence of a clinical professional evaluation regarding their current rehabilitation status.  Each case is reviewed on an individual basis and may involve a meeting between the applicant and the Board.

Impact on Previously Licensed Nurses

Generally, nursing licenses expire on the first day of March of every other year following the date of issuance for the original license.  On or before the first day of January each year, the Department of Health mails a notice for renewal of license to every person scheduled to be licensed that year.  Unless the Court, or some other authority notifies the Board that a nurse has been convicted of a crime, he or she does not have a duty to self-report the conviction to the Board.  However, at the time of renewal, the nurse will be obligated to disclose if he or she has since been convicted of a crime when completing a renewal application. 

In the event the Board is notified of the conviction before the current license expires, or the nurse discloses it at the time of renewal, the nurse must apply to the Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) for a national criminal records check that shall include fingerprints submitted to the FBI.  The nurse must also submit the various court-related documents listed above, and may be required to meet with the Board as previously stated.

For both new applicants and previously licensed nurses, the Board has the power to deny, revoke, or suspend a license, or otherwise discipline the licensee upon proof that the person committed a crime (or other proscribed action).  In instances where licensure is granted or renewed, the Board may also impose conditions such as probation, suspension, or other sanctions.  In the event licensure is denied, the Rules and Regulations for the Licensing of Nurses allows the applicant to appeal.[2] 

Conclusions

Although the Department of Health and Board are focused on the practice of nursing and professional misconduct, criminal charges unrelated to the practice of nursing are equally scrutinized.  This is particularly true in cases that reflect a lapse in integrity or suggest that a nurse may pose a danger to the public.

Rhode Island evaluates each nursing application on an individual basis, which gives the applicant the opportunity to provide context and any mitigating circumstances surrounding his or her conviction.  However, a comparative analysis of application procedures conducted by the National Council of State Board of Nursing (NCSBN) highlights how strict Rhode Island is regarding nursing licensure.  For instance, up until a few years ago, Rhode Island was among a small number of jurisdictions where any felony conviction served as an absolute bar to licensure.[3] 

If you are a nurse, or plan to become a nurse in Rhode Island and have a criminal history of any kind, it is crucial that you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney when applying for a nursing license.  The Law Office of John L. Calcagni III, Inc. has successfully represented health care professionals of various disciplines, including nursing in both the criminal justice system and before the Board.   Call us today for a free consultation.


[1] Under these guidelines, “conviction” also includes nolo contendere pleas followed by probation.

[2] The appeal procedures are pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 42-35 of the General Laws of RI, as amended, and the Rules and Regulations relating to Procedures Before the Dept. of Health as contained in Section 15.1 of the regulations.

[3] https://ncsbn.org/Discipline_Continued_Competency_Assistive_Personnel_Practice.pdf; and https://nursing.ceconnection.com/ovidfiles/00000446-201210000-00028.pdf