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Petty Theft Charges and Your Nursing License

Although petty theft does not sound like a serious crime, it can be seriously detrimental to a nursing student or a licensed nurse. Although a charge or conviction of petty theft may create additional hurdles in obtaining licensure or keeping your nursing license, it does not automatically mean that you will be denied licensure. With the right criminal defense, a nurse or nursing student can effectively fight for his or her license. Having and experienced criminal defense attorney significantly increases the chances for a beneficial outcome.

Background on California Petty Theft Laws

California’s petty theft laws are governed by Penal Code sections 484(a) and 488. By definition, it is simply the unlawful taking of property valued at $950 or less. When most people think of petty theft, they think of getting caught shoplifting. However, there are other scenarios where this type of violation may arise. You may also be charged with petty theft by embezzlement (taking property that was entrusted to you), fraud (lying in order to obtain the property), and by trick (altering price tags). In California, petty theft is a misdemeanor that can carry a sentence of up to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

In order to secure a conviction for petty theft, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

(1) You took something from another person or business; or

(2) Fraudulently appropriated property or labor; and

(3) Intended to deprive the owner of the property

In some cases, petty theft may be charged as a felony under CA Penal Code section 666. Under PC section 666, the prosecutor may choose to file the petty theft as a misdemeanor if you have a prior history of theft. If it is filed as a felony, you may face up to three years in state prison.

Nurses and Nursing Students Need Defense at Two Separate Levels

Nurses and nursing students need criminal defense, just as anyone else facing charges of petty theft would. However, because they either hold a professional license or are eligible to become licensed, they also need defense at the administrative stage. The Board of Registered Nurses (BRN) oversees California licensure for registered nurses and nursing students. No matter what happens at the criminal stage, the BRN has the authority to conduct their own investigation, and to take disciplinary action. This disciplinary action could be denial of licensure for a nursing student, probationary licensure, diversion program, and several other disciplinary actions depending on the facts of the case. For nurses who already hold a license, the BRN may revoke or suspend your license based simply on charges (and not a conviction).

It is obviously leverage to have a good outcome at the criminal stage. A good criminal defense attorney will use this as a point to argue with the BRN. In most cases, this will simply be used as negotiating leverage, and the BRN will still exercise its power to investigate and take action against the nurse or nursing student. You may choose to appeal the BRN’s decision, should they choose to take disciplinary action. You have the right to have your attorney present at the appeal hearing. However, a good criminal defense attorney will negotiate with the BRN and the Attorney General prior to the hearing – as most cases result in a stipulated settlement prior to the hearing. If the attorney can secure a stipulated settlement that allows the nurse or nursing student to keep their license or leaves them eligible to receive their license, then a hearing is usually not necessary.