A common misconception regarding a professional license is that the disciplinary process is the same as the criminal justice system. Although the complaint, investigation, and hearing process is similar to the criminal justice system, it differs in significant ways. An administrative hearing is something that you could face if you hold a professional license and an agency has taken action against you to discipline you for actions you have taken under your professional license.
Differences Between Criminal and Administrative Issues
In a criminal trial, the allegations against the defendant are presented to a judge and a jury in most cases. The judge handles matters of law that are in dispute and the jury handles matters of fact that are in dispute. In an administrative hearing, the trier of fact is usually a member of the agency that is making the decisions. The trier of fact could actually be an entire board of the agency, a commission, or members of the professional community. Unlike a criminal trial, the trier of fact is not a jury of peers, but rather people who have been selected that have a significant level of knowledge in your profession or those that have authority over you in your profession.
This trier of fact in administrative hearings often has expertise that leads them to be able to make a final determination based on that expertise. Anyone facing a board in an administrative hearing will be facing people that have experience in the subject matter in dispute and are able to examine evidence with more knowledge than the average layperson.
Another major difference between criminal trials and administrative hearings is that there is no requirement to make decisions based on past decisions like in criminal trials. The criminal justice system has a doctrine called “stare decisis,” which basically means that a court must adhere to decided cases and not disturb matters that have already been settled in a court of law. Because of this doctrine, judges in criminal cases will look to previous cases that control their decision.
Unlike this doctrine in criminal cases, administrative hearings and decision makers do not follow precedent and do not always publish decisions. Up until recently, administrative decisions were decided and not published. Recently, agencies have started publishing decisions and compiling them to become accessible. Past administrative decisions can but do not have to control present administrative hearings so the outcome of these hearings is less consistent or predictable.
Another surprising part about administrative hearings is that the board that makes a decision may know a lot about the licensee. Because the board is heavily involved in the profession of the licensee, there could already be history between the board and the licensee or the board could know much more about the licensee than a judge does. This is especially true in cases where the licensee has faced an administrative proceeding before the board in the past. In administrative hearings, there is very little conflict of interest remedies available.
In many administrative proceedings, the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act (UAPA) applies, but in some cases, this act is not controlling. The UAPA provides procedures for administrative proceedings. The UAPA usually does not provide procedures for administrative hearings that arose from a complaint that was not filed by a customer or someone that had a professional relationship with the licensee. The UAPA also does not apply to all procedures in an administrative hearing. For example, the UAPA does not include the typical rules of evidence that are adhered to in criminal trials.
The burden of proof in administrative hearings differs from that of criminal trials. In criminal trials, the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is higher than the standard of “preponderance of the evidence” in administrative hearings. The burden of “preponderance of the evidence” is met when the party bringing the action can show that there is greater than a 50% chance that the allegations against the licensee are true. The burden of proof is not however, dictated by the UAPA but this is the general standard.
Facing an administrative hearing can be daunting and intimidating and in order to make sure that you receive the best possible outcome, you should consult an attorney before going before a board that is considering disciplining you. If you have questions or concerns regarding your professional license, call our office to see how we can help.