Criminal laws are made to protect the public as a whole from the harmful acts of others. The purpose of criminal law is to define socially intolerable conduct that is punishable by law. No citizen of the United States can bring a criminal lawsuit against another person, since these are offenses against society as a whole. A criminal act is one in which a person or institution commits an illegal act or a failure to act. Criminal law requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt , which is evidence with an almost absolute certainty that a person did commit a crime. In a state crime, the local prosecutor in the District Attorney’s office will bring about a criminal action against the accused person. In a federal crime, it will be the federal prosecutor who brings about this action.
In a criminal case , the government (the state in most cases) brings the suit against a person or group of people accused of committing a crime, resulting in a fine, imprisonment, or both if the defendant is found guilty. Federal criminal offenses include illegal actions that cross state lines—kidnapping, treason, or other actions that affect national security. Crimes involving the borders of the United States (e.g., illegal transport of drugs and any illegal act against a federally regulated business, such as a bank) are also federal criminal offenses.
Criminal acts fall into two categories: felony and misdemeanor. A felony carries a punishment of death or imprisonment in a state or federal prison for more than one year. These serious crimes include murder, rape, sodomy, robbery, larceny, arson, burglary, tax evasion, and practicing medicine without a license. Misdemeanors are less serious offenses. They include traffic violations, disturbing the peace, and minor theft. A misdemeanor carries a punishment of fines or imprisonment in jail for up to a year.
A physician’s license may be revoked by the state licensing board if he or she is convicted of a crime. Criminal cases in the healthcare field have included revocation of a license for violating narcotics laws, sexual misconduct, income tax evasion, counterfeiting, and murder.
Administrative law , a branch of public law, covers regulations that are set by government agencies. In the healthcare field, federal and state agencies, under authorization from Congress or state legislatures, have created a multitude of rules and regulations. Violations of these regulations may constitute criminal or civil violations. However, in most cases, they are civil law violations. Examples that are covered under administrative law include licensing boards for physicians and nurses, Workmen’s Compensation Boards, and the Department of Health and Human Services. These wide-ranging healthcare related regulations include the following:
· Licensing and supervision of prescribing, storing, and dispensing controlled substances
· Health department regulations, including reporting requirements of certain communicable diseases
· Regulations against homicide, infanticide, euthanasia, assault, and battery
· Regulations against fraud
· Internal Revenue Service regulations that are healthcare related.
Figure 2.5 Felony Case Process
Healthcare professionals are more involved in areas of administrative law than in any other source of law. The penalties for violations of this category of law include fines, sanctions, and revocation or termination of licenses.
When faced with difficult ethical or legal dilemmas, remember that your hard-earned license or certification can be revoked if you make the wrong decision.