Can You Lose Your License for a “Crime of Moral Turpitude”?

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Moral Turpitude

Most licensees know that their license can be in jeopardy if convicted of a felony. What about a misdemeanor? Better yet, what if that misdemeanor involves a crime of moral turpitude?

Real estate license law contains a similar provision to other licensed professions. It allows the Real Estate Commission to impose discipline towards a licensee found convicted of a “crime of moral turpitude.”

What is a crime of moral turpitude?

An Ohio court recently issued a decision in a case involving a nurse convicted of two misdemeanor offenses. This included one count of using a weapon while intoxicated, a first-degree misdemeanor. As well as one count of failing to secure a dangerous ordnance, a second-degree misdemeanor. The nurse was not given jail time and instead placed on probation. The court required her to obtain counseling and pay a fine. The Ohio Nursing Board imposed discipline against her for crimes involving gross immorality or moral turpitude.

The Court evaluated many other decisions attempting to define what is a “crime of moral turpitude.” This was to consider whether the Nursing Board’s decision was in accordance with law. The Court narrowed prior decisions down to three main areas. First, conduct involving an intent to defraud either a person or society. Second, convictions involving underlying conduct establishing dishonesty or falsification. And finally, misdemeanor convictions involving egregious sexual misconduct constituting crimes of moral turpitude.

The Court next looked at the nurse’s case for the conduct that led to the criminal charges. The Court found she fired a weapon into the ground in an attempt to scare her husband away, as a reaction to his physical abuse towards her. The Court reasoned that the nurse’s conduct was in response to her husband’s assault. These were likely mitigating factors leading to a plea deal for two nonviolent misdemeanors. Ultimately, the Court concluded that the nurse’s conduct was not so vile or depraved that it violated acceptable moral standards of the community. The Court then reversed the Ohio Nursing Board’s decision.

Real estate license law requires a licensee to notify the Superintendent in writing within 15 days of a conviction of a crime of moral turpitude. Like the nursing regulations, real estate regulations do not specifically define what is or is not a crime of moral turpitude. Further, like the case discussed above, a crime of moral turpitude can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. The consequence for failing to notify the Superintendent is an automatic suspension of the license. If the notification is timely, the Superintendent may open an investigation to review to conduct. During this time, you may continue to practice. Nonetheless, it is an important cautionary tale. Be mindful that your actions may classify as a crime of moral turpitude and put your license in jeopardy. Regardless if they result in a misdemeanor conviction!

For more information on the case discussed above, see Rogers v. Ohio Board of Nursing, Franklin C.P. No. 17 CVF 06-5549 (Oct. 31, 2017)