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DWI not disciplinable offense for nurse, Missouri court rules

Convictions for driving while intoxicated are not, without further aggravating circumstances, disciplinable offenses for Missouri's nurses, a Missouri appellate court held November 17 (Owens v. Missouri State Board of Nursing).

In 2011, Missouri registered nurse Jeannie Owens pled guilty to driving while intoxicated when she caused an auto accident after taking an excess of prescription muscle relaxants. Two years later, the state’s nursing board followed up her conviction with a disciplinary action, charging her with committing an offense involving moral turpitude related to her duties as a nurse and for failing to notify the board of her conviction in two license renewal applications.

After a hearing, the board revoked Owens’ license solely on the basis of the former charges—that her conviction was for a crime of moral turpitude reasonably related to her qualifications as a nurse. Although the board also held that Owens had improperly failed to report the conviction, it did not name that failure as an independent basis for discipline.

Owens appealed and the case eventually went up to the Court of Appeals of Missouri, where Owens argued that her DWI conviction was neither a crime of moral turpitude nor related to her nursing work.

The court agreed with Owens, overturning her discipline and stating that her conviction for DWI, while “irresponsible,” in this particular case, did not meet the definition of a crime of moral turpitude as an act of “baseness, vileness, or depravity.”

Driving while intoxicated, the court held, “when dealing with a first offense and a conviction as a misdemeanor,” is generally not a crime involving meeting that low moral standard.

Further, the court held, “Nothing within the offense of driving while intoxicated relates to or is connected or linked to the qualifications, functions, or duties of a nurse.”