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I was told to expect criminal charges for a drug diversion incident. Should I retain an attorney now, before charges are filed?

Friday June 21, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

I was terminated from a temporary nursing position for drug diversion. I turned myself in to my state nurse peer assistance program and I am in a strong recovery program.

My case manager told me to expect criminal charges and referred me to a criminal defense attorney. I have a clean 20-year RN record and no experience with the law. I am told it may be months before charges are filed. Should I wait until charges are filed to retain an attorney?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Mave,

You are to be commended for reporting to your state's peer assistance program. It sounds as though you are doing well in the program and that is important for your personal recovery, as well as your ability to retain your nurse license.

Your case manager's concern that criminal charges will be filed against you needs to be taken seriously. Although this is always a personal choice of a nurse licensee, it is often best to retain the nurse attorney or attorney who will represent you in the criminal matter as soon as possible. Although it may take time before the charges are filed, once they are, the attorney would prefer to be prepared and ready to move forward as quickly as possible in the criminal proceedings. In addition, the attorney probably would want to be updated as to your progress during treatment and your aftercare requirements.

Your state nurse practice act probably has a basis for discipline in a criminal conviction, in addition to the drug diversion basis. Although the drug diversion issue may go away because you are in the state peer assistance program (some state nurse practice acts allow a successful completion of such a program with no discipline) what happens during the criminal proceedings is extremely important, because a conviction will affect your licensure in some way. Your attorney can discuss with you the best options based on your circumstances.

If you face the board of nursing for the drug diversion, you also will want to consider retaining a nurse attorney or attorney to represent you in those proceedings. Both attorneys would want to coordinate their respective practice areas to obtain the best result.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.