The Effect of Criminal Guilty Pleas in Administrative Hearings

Publication year1993
22 Colo.Law. 1889
Colorado Lawyer

1993, September, Pg. 1889. The Effect of Criminal Guilty Pleas in Administrative Hearings


Vol. 22, No. 9, Pg. 1889

The Effect of Criminal Guilty Pleas in Administrative Hearings

by Marshall A. Snider

Editors' Note:

This article concerns an issue of first impression in Colorado. The opinions and analysis expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the CBA Administrative Law Committee.

Dr. Zhivago is charged by his local district attorney with three counts of felony sexual assault on his patients. As a result, Zhivago faces significant criminal penalties, which may include the opportunity of living in one of Colorado's fine correctional institutions

Fortunately, Zhivago is represented by able counsel, who succeeds in negotiating a favorable plea agreement. Dr. Zhivago will plead guilty to one count of a misdemeanor sexual assault, for which he will receive probation, including psychological counseling. He enters this guilty plea despite his firm belief that he did not assault his patients, who for some reason have conspired to fabricate these charges.

Having happily entered his plea, the good doctor believes that his problems are over. After all, while entering a guilty plea to a felony could be grounds for disciplinary action against his medical license, there is no similar penalty for a misdemeanor plea.(fn1) The doctor may be very pleased with himself, therefore, for having avoided the "slam dunk" disciplinary charge of having pleaded guilty to a felony.

Nevertheless, Zhivago is not out of the woods. Lurking in the Medical Practice Act are potential charges of grossly negligent medical practice, conduct which fails to meet generally accepted standards of medical practice and engaging in a sexual act with a patient.(fn2) Regardless of the absence of a felony plea or conviction, the State Board of Medical Examiners ("Board") can proceed against Dr. Zhivago on his underlying conduct.

Guilty Plea in Disciplinary Case

Subsequently, the Board does file charges against Dr. Zhivago for gross negligence, substandard practice and engaging in a sexual act with a patient. Being well-schooled in legal terminology by this time, the doctor asks his lawyer the pertinent questions: (1) whether his guilty plea to a misdemeanor is admissible in the administrative case, and (2) if so, whether it will preclude him from denying that he engaged in the underlying sexual conduct.(fn3)

Admissibility of the Plea

There is no significant issue as to the admissibility of the prior guilty plea as an evidentiary matter. While only felonies are admissible for purposes of impeachment pursuant to CRS § 13-90-101, there is no requirement that a guilty plea offered as an admission be a plea to a felony. As an admission, there appears to be no impediment to receipt into evidence of Dr. Zhivago's guilty plea to the misdemeanor.(fn4)

Conclusive Effect of the Plea

The more difficult question is whether the guilty plea will have conclusive effect, thus precluding the doctor from contesting the facts underlying the charges to which he entered the plea and relieving the Board of the burden of proving those facts. This issue may be analyzed under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which applies in administrative proceedings.(fn5)

The facts underlying a conviction of a crime on a jury verdict or after a trial to the court may be given preclusive effect in later...

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