California has strict laws regarding who is permitted to practice medicine within the state. It is criminal to practice medicine when you do not have a valid medical license. It could manifest in several ways, from permitting a person to diagnose or treat another with no license to working for a medical practice owned by an unlicensed person to offering online medical services to someone in California when you do not have a state-issued license.

Practicing medicine with no medical license can lead to criminal charges and disciplinary action by the licensing board. You could face incarceration, significant fines, and probation if convicted in criminal court and discipline or revocation/suspension of your medical license by the licensing board for your professional penalties.

If you have been arrested for or charged with practicing medicine while unauthorized, you want to contact an experienced fraud crimes defense lawyer first. Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm attorneys can help if you have been charged in Riverside. We can address the professional and criminal aspects of your case, working to assist you in protecting your freedom and license.

Overview of Practicing Medicine When Unauthorized

Patients place so much trust in their doctors, making the law regulating medical practice with no license unforgiving. Cases of practicing medicine with no license could be done with or without criminal intent, like the intent to assault the patient sexually or defraud.

Due to the increased risk of medical malpractice cases, the medical industry is strictly regulated. California law necessitates anybody who wishes to practice medicine in the state to first go to medical school and obtain a state-issued medical license. Therefore, a person practicing medicine when not licensed is committing a severe offense.

The illegalization of the unauthorized practice of medicine is a precaution to the public against untrained individuals who try treating others using quack techniques that potentially pose a high health risk to patients or kill them altogether. This kind of practice is criminal and is punishable by harsh penalties.

But the practice of medicine is challenging to describe on some grounds. Although states are liable for issuing medical licenses, a few unauthorized practices can be considered legal. For instance, a school can give prescription medication to the students who need them. A physician may have prescribed the medication already, and the action is safer than the drugs being with the student.

The Legal Meaning of Unauthorized Practice of Medicine 

It is unlawful in California to practice medicine when you do not have a legitimate license. This category of fraud crimes is described under the Business and Professions Code (BPC) 2052.

The legal meaning of the California crime of practicing medicine while unauthorized covers these activities undertaken in the absence of a valid license or any other authorization in California:

  • Practicing, holding yourself out as practicing, advertising, or attempting to practice a mode or system that treats affliction or illness
  • Prescribing drugs for, operating on, curing, or diagnosing any blemish, deformity, ailment, disorder, disfigurement, disease, injury, or any other mental/physical condition
  • Aiding and abetting or conspiring with another party to perform one or more of the abovementioned activities.

Some examples of a BPC 2052 violation are:

  • A non-doctor entrepreneur purchases a medical practice from a doctor and then employs that doctor to operate the practice. Whereas only a licensed doctor treats the patients who come into that practice, the new practice owner violates Business and Professions Code 2052 since he is unlicensed.
  • A licensed doctor from a different state treats a resident of California via telemedicine. It is worth repeating that the doctor does not hold a specifically California license
  • A person uses homeopathic or unconventional methods, for instance, herbal remedies, acupuncture, or hypnosis, to treat particular illnesses. Even if the person does not allege to be a physician, they could still be held criminally liable for illegally diagnosing and treating conditions

The California law against practicing medicine when unauthorized is detailed and extends beyond the mere act of impersonating a physician when you lack a valid license to practice medicine. If you do not specifically hold a valid state medical license, you may be prosecuted under BPC 2052 whether or not:

  • You have a medical clinic but never treat patients yourself
  • You hold a license from another country or state, but not California

Consider this example: Marion is a non-U.S citizen from Canada, in which country she was a reputable doctor. After he moved to California, she notes that her fellow non-citizens from Canada do not have access to good medical care here. Therefore, without undergoing the procedure to obtain a California medical license, Marion advertises her doctor services, in California, through a newsletter. She offers essential patient checkups at only a small fee.

Marion's intentions are purely genuine. She wants to offer low-cost medical services to patients that need them. In spite of this, she may still be charged for violating BPC 2052.

Simply put, practicing medicine with no license comprises an unlicensed person treating or diagnosing another person with a mental/physical condition.

This law defines the word 'diagnosis' as utilizing any device, procedure, or method to discover whether an individual suffers from a mental or physical disorder. This includes using blood pressure cuffs or other similar equipment but exempts measuring someone's weight or height. The word 'treatment' entails prescribing medications to someone or giving them injections, as well as the more conventional treatment techniques like acupuncture and hypnosis.

For instance, Lisa does not hold a medical license. She advertises her services as an acupuncturist, alleging she can use acupuncture to help patients relieve discomfort associated with fibromyalgia. Lisa could be pronounced guilty of violating BPC 2052 since she is holding herself out as capable of curing a physical condition with no license.

No Illness or Bodily Injury is Required

One notable thing about BPC 2052 violation is that it is not a requirement that someone is injured or hurt by the unauthorized practice of medicine. Additionally, you need not have intended to harm or injure someone whatsoever. Put otherwise, violating BPC 2052 is an offense with no victim involved, but one is still severely punished.

As for a mental/physical condition, you might be charged with BPC 2052 violation for diagnosing or treating any mental/physical condition, not only those readily recognized as injury, disease, or illness. For example, Betty is not a physician. She also does not hold a midwife license. She advertises her services of assisting in delivering babies in normal pregnancy cases for women who do not need special intervention when giving birth. In this case, Betty can be convicted of violating BPC 2052. Although childbirth and normal pregnancies do not arguably qualify as afflictions or sicknesses, they are deemed physical conditions requiring a person treating them to have a medical license.

Note that BPC 2052 applies only to incidents that occur in California. Although, because of the internet's emergence, this concept is not currently as simple as it used to be.

Generally, however, if you diagnose or treat a California State patient and have no California-issued license, you will likely face prosecution under BPC 2052 irrespective of whether or not you have never come to California. For example, Christina is a medical doctor in Nevada. She has a Nevada-issued medical license. Maribel is a California resident. She falls ill and wants a doctor to prescribe her medication, so she visits a website offering online prescriptions. She completes a questionnaire regarding her symptoms on the website. The website owners send the questionnaire to Christina in Nevada, who receives payment for being the website's consulting doctor. After reviewing Maribel's answers, Christina prescribes her the medication she has asked for. The website fills Maribel's prescription and sends her the medicines via mail.

Christina can be convicted for violating BPC 2052 since she offered to treat a California State resident when she did not have a California-issued license.

A Non-Doctor Cannot Own or Operate any Medical Practice

California statute against practicing medicine when not authorized can also be violated when a person not licensed as healthcare personnel owns or runs a medical practice. This is the case whether or not the non-physician owner does not conduct any medical-related service in that practice.

David and Harry own a clinic that conducts medical exams for persons seeking workers' comp benefits. None of these two is a physician. They hire Bridgette, a licensed doctor, to do the examinations. David and Harry can be convicted of violating BPC 2052 for owning and profiting from the clinic, yet they are unlicensed physicians. Bridgette is also criminally liable under BPC 2052 because she aided and abetted David and Harry's actions.

BPC 2052 Violation By California Medical Assistants

A California medical assistant can face prosecution under BPC 2052 because they do not possess medical licenses. Because they lack medical licenses, medical assistants cannot legally practice medicine independently per BPC 2052. According to this law, they are only permitted to assist licensed healthcare professionals in providing medical services. Medical assistants cannot be charged with a BPC 2052 violation, provided they perform technical or administrative services. They may only be criminally liable if they participate in diagnosing and treating patients.

You may be convicted of BPC 2052 violation whether or not you conducted what appears to be a minor operation. For example, it is considered a BPC 2052 violation if you involve yourself in doing or running a silicone pumping party. You could be pronounced guilty under BPC 2052 if you give someone silicone while you have no medical license. You need to be licensed to perform even a minor cosmetic procedure.

Referring Patients to Unauthorized Health Practitioners

Should you refer a patient to an unauthorized doctor, you could be charged with BPC 2052 violation, regardless of whether or not you hold a license to practice medicine. It is worth repeating that it is against the law to conspire with someone to practice medicine or aid and abet practicing medicine without authorization or a license. You could face BPC 2052 violation charges if you consciously and intentionally refer a patient to an unauthorized medical doctor.

Penalties for BPC 2052 Violation

The consequences of violating BPC 2052 vary based on whether or not the prosecution opts to try the violation as a felony or misdemeanor. The prosecution's decision depends on the case facts (for instance, whether anybody was hurt or became ill due to the accused's conduct) and the accused's criminal record.

If convicted of a misdemeanor BPC 2052 violation, you will face the following consequences:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A maximum of twelve months in jail
  • Up to $1,000 in fines

Felony consequences for violating BPC 2052 include up to $10,000 in fines, sixteen months, three or two years in state prison, and formal or felony probation.

If sentenced to summary or formal probation, the judge will want you to comply with various conditions, such as regularly reporting to the probation officer. Failure to which, they will revoke your probation sentence and impose the original incarceration period for your crime.

Defending Against BPC 2052 Violation

Practicing medicine when you are not authorized is a white-collar offense. However, it does not mean the prosecution does not charge it severely. There are several stories of law-abiding, well-meaning people who unconsciously violate state laws about who can do what as far as the medical industry is concerned and must pay for their actions with criminal repercussions. If you are in this kind of situation, you can argue these legal defenses with help from your attorney:

False Accusations

False accusations result in innocent people being charged with all offenses, and BPC 2052 is no exception. It could be you are a non-medical professional with a dissatisfied ex-client who wants to cause trouble for you or misunderstood your services. Or, it could be that a business-related dispute has made a former business partner or colleague make false claims against you. If your lawyer is experienced enough, they may have come across cases like this one and understand how to collect the right proof and ask the necessary questions to ensure the truth is revealed.

Inadequate Evidence

You might not be convicted of BPC 2052 violation if the prosecution cannot prove the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. People who accuse others of violating BPC 2052 are often reluctant to continue with the case due to poor or delayed investigations. Your lawyer may seize this opportunity to contest the prosecution's case. This could lead to the judge dismissing the case if the prosecution team does not provide compelling proof.

Your Actions Did Not Satisfy the Legal Meaning of Practicing Medicine

Particularly in this era, there are so many gray areas in the definition of practicing medicine. For instance, we now know that healing traditions exist worldwide and have little to do with Western medicine. Private trainers work hand in hand with patients to suggest solutions for their medical problems. And patients are progressively looking for new and usually cheaper ways to treat their medical issues.

Chances are high that you have been accused of violating BPC 2052 for conduct that does not entirely fall under the traditional meaning of medicine. If that is the case, your lawyer can assist you in arguing that you are not guilty of the crime.

 Self-Help Group Engagement

Your lawyer could help you challenge your BPC 2052 violation charges by arguing you were only participating in self-help group activities. The judge may not find you guilty under BPC 2052 if your lawyer provides enough proof that you were not practicing medicine; rather, you were engaging in a support group or self-help group. In California, support and self-help groups are exempted from prosecution under BPC 2052. Often, the members of these groups do not hold medical licenses. They only recommend remedies/treatments, but they do not practice medicine.

The Services Did Not Profit You In Any Way

Sometimes, you might have rendered your services only to assist someone who needs them without asking for compensation. For example, you might have retired from the medical industry but encounter an injured person who needs help. However, offering them your services at a charge when you do not hold a medical license anymore makes you guilty of BPC 2052 violation. Your attorney can assert that you simply helped someone who needed the help and never charged them for your services. If they prove this successfully, the judge may dismiss the case against you.

Similarly, if you previously practiced midwifery and switched careers, you could still assist a person who needs those services. If you encounter a woman in labor and help them deliver their infant before help arrives, the judge cannot convict you of violating BPC 2052 as long as you did not profit from the aid you provided.

Laws Related to BPC 2052 Violation

Several laws are related to a BPC 2052 violation. The prosecution may charge you under these laws instead of or alongside BPC 2052. Related statutes to BPC 2052 are:

Using Letters and Titles When Unauthorized

In California, using these words on any business card, sign, advertisement, or letterhead is an offense if you are a non-licensed doctor.

  • The term 'physician.'
  • The term 'doctor.'
  • The initials 'M.D.'
  • The prefix 'Dr.'
  • Any other letter or term implying you are a surgeon or doctor

This criminal offense is considered a misdemeanor. The possible penalties upon a conviction include up to $1,000 in fines and six months of jail term.

Practicing Law When Unauthorized to Do So

You might not be capable of practicing law in California if you are not an active member of the California State Bar. This is true for attorneys whose bar membership was revoked/suspended and persons that have never served as attorneys.

Like BPC 2052 violation, practicing law when you are not authorized to do that results in severe criminal consequences. It is mainly considered a misdemeanor but changes to be a wobbler crime with possible felony consequences if committed by an attorney who has been disbarred or suspended.

Professional Discipline and Criminal Convictions

Criminal arrests, convictions, and physician discipline are other concerns for medical professionals in California. A conviction for any crime substantially linked to a doctor's duties, functions, or qualifications can lead to professional discipline for California doctors. The most severe type of discipline you can face as a doctor is for the Medical Board of California to suspend or revoke your professional license. If that happens, you want to be careful about continuing to practice medicine and subjecting yourself to BPC 2052 violation charges.

If you are a nurse, you can also be subject to license revocation (in particular cases) and nurse discipline if convicted of certain crimes.

Medical Marijuana Laws

Medical marijuana statutes are intricate and confusing. At times, they clash with California BPC 2052 to cause issues with the criminal justice system for persons who did not intend to act illegally.

For instance, a person who owns a medical marijuana business can be convicted under BPC 2052 for running a clinic whereby licensed physicians examine patients and recommend medical marijuana. Although only licensed physicians attend to patients, it is still deemed the unauthorized practice of medicine since a non-physician owns the cooperative that hires doctors.

Find an Experienced Criminal Lawyer Near Me

If you have been accused of practicing medicine without a license or are under investigation, you should immediately call a skilled fraud crimes defense lawyer. Whereas these accusations are severe, there are several possible defenses. Taking preemptive action may enable you to tell your side of the story and mitigate professional or criminal penalties. Since whatever you say in your criminal case may be used against you in disciplinary action and vice versa, you want to work closely with an attorney to defend your license and rights. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we offer knowledgeable and compassionate legal representation for persons charged with unauthorized practice of medicine. For every case, we build a detailed strategy to tackle every aspect of the matter. To set up a consultation with us or know more about how we can assist you, contact us any time at 951-946-6366.