Attorneys need to be mindful that a conviction for drunk driving may impact their ability to practice law.
Practitioners who are subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the USPTO, for example, must advise the Office of Enrollment and Discipline within 30 days of any criminal conviction, misdemeanor or felony.
When the OED receives a report of a practitioner’s conviction, the first step it takes is to determine whether the crime is a “serious” crime. The USPTO Rules define a “serious” crime as:
(1) Any criminal offense classified as a felony under the laws of the United States, any state or any foreign country where the crime occurred; or
(2) Any crime a necessary element of which, as determined by the statutory or common law definition of such crime in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred, includes interference with the administration of justice, false swearing, misrepresentation, fraud, willful failure to file income tax returns, deceit, bribery, extortion, misappropriation, theft, or an attempt or a conspiracy or solicitation of another to commit a “serious crime.”
If the crime is deemed “serious,” then pursuant to 37 C.F.R. § 11.25, the USPTO Director shall issue a show cause order requiring the practitioner to demonstrate why they should not be immediately suspended until formal disciplinary proceedings are completed.
Depending on the state and the circumstances (for example, if property or personal injury is involved), drunk driving could constitute a “serious” crime warranting prompt suspension until formal disciplinary proceedings are completed.
Even if it is determined that the crime is not a “serious” crime, the OED Director may open an ethics investigation to determine whether any of the rules of professional conduct were violated by the practitioner. Once that occurs, the practitioner’s life becomes an open book as the OED will probe for information into all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the conviction.
OED is also on the lookout for other instances of possible misconduct, and will seek to determine whether the conduct was an isolated incident or if the practitioner is suffering from a substance abuse problem.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), motorists are at risk for encountering someone driving drunk at any time of day, but the risk rises exponentially at night. During the Fourth of July holiday period in 2012, the rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes was almost 2.5 times higher at night than during the day.
Today, drunk driving is one of the most avoidable crimes in America. Indeed, a report issued in January 2015 by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Uber found that ride sharing services are “an important innovation in the reduction of drunk driving” in the United States.
As the 4th of July weekend approaches, remember that state bars and the OED care about your behavior, whether it is work-related or not. Criminal convictions are just one of the many ways practitioners can lose their right to practice law for “personal” misconduct.
Be smart and stay safe.