Domestic Violence for Professionals – Part IV – Fingerprint Clearance Cards: Teachers & Nurses

In our last three sessions we spoke initially about certain commonalities in domestic violence processing procedure , including arrest, initial appearance and arraignment. Then we spoke about the integral role cooperative victims can assume in securing favorable release conditions and, moreover, favorable final outcomes.

Today we’re going to talk about some a common professional consequence that attach soon after arrest for a domestic violence related crime, including misdemeanors: Suspension of Fingerprint Clearance Cards.

This is a consequence that attaches by virtue of the arrest alone. Often in weeks of arrest.

Arizona Fingerprint Cards: Double Licensure

Unique in the United States, Arizona Fingerprint Clearance Cards operate for teachers and nurses, and others, as a form of secondary compelled licensure. Administered by the Arizona Department of Public Safety, rather than the underlying regulatory agency, Arizona Fingerprint Clearance Cards are requisite to a wide variety of Arizona professions.

The list is long: For example: Real Estate Agents in Arizona, counterintuitively, must have both a license to practice real estate agency and in addition, a valid Arizona Fingerprint Clearance Card.

Similarly, and the subject of this blog, Arizona Public School Teachers must also possess both a valid state teacher’s license issued by the Arizona Board of Education and a valid Fingerprint Clearance Card issued by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

And nurses of all stripes—CNA’s, LPN’s, RN’s and NP’s—must all possess valid nursing licenses from the Arizona State Board of Nursing. Many, particularly those working in clinical settings with vulnerable populations must also possess a valid Fingerprint Clearance cards issued by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Suspension of Arizona Fingerprint Clearance Card Upon Arrest

Perhaps the most frightening feature of the Arizona Fingerprint Clearance Card system, is that the cards are unilaterally suspended automatically upon arrest for a domestic violence misdemeanor. This happens usually within weeks of the arrest. Recourse is limited and can be tricky.

Teachers

For Arizona Public School teachers the automatic suspension of the fingerprint clearance card upon arrest can immediately and definitively affect employment and professional status.

As a primary concern, even with a supportive principal, and a supportive victim, many school systems as a matter of policy restrict the card-suspended teacher’s access to their own students, at least during the pendency of suspension.

Special Considerations

And since all Arizona public school teachers must possess valid fingerprint clearance cards, and because those cards are suspended upon arrest special considerations are in order.

First, even if diversion were offered (see part three of this series), prosecutors usually require a minimum of 26 sessions of domestic violence counseling to be completed over a course of months prior to dismissal. Thus, the typical diversion time-frame may interfere substantially with a teaching schedule.

Second, even if the case were to be litigated to final conclusion, it would, even if there were an acquittal, likely drag on for a similar time period, again interfering with a teaching schedule.

Third, even with effective victim statutory advocacy (see part three of this blog series), many if not most prosecutors are policy-bound or otherwise reluctant to dismiss a domestic violence matter prematurely, if at all.

Therefore, for teachers, a domestic violence misdemeanor arrest is a serious matter.

Strategy

The preferable strategy for teachers is therefore early and strong advocacy by both the victim and the attorney for the teacher. In cases where the victim pushes for a dismissal, and there are no prior incidents, a strong well-documented skillfully crafted letter to the prosecutor explaining the operation of Title 41 provisions that govern Fingerprint Clearance Cards, together with a strong resume, and a possibly supportive letter from a supervisor or colleague, sometimes can aid in securing an early disposition.

Post-Dismissal Reinstatement of Fingerprint Clearance Card

But dismissal alone is not the end point for Arizona card-holding teachers. The Card must be now reinstated.

Once the domestic violence case has been dismissed, for a teacher there are two ways to reinstate the fingerprint clearance card. The preferable manner is to go directly to the Department of Public Safety Fingerprint Clearance Card Team, provide them with a certified copy of the dismissal order, and ask for immediate expedited reinstatement.

If there are barriers, or DPS makes an adverse determination, or declines to act, a teacher can also go the Arizona Fingerprint Clearance Board, an independent governor-appointed organ of government, which reviews actions of the Department of Public Safety Fingerprint Clearance Team, thorough petitions for a Good Cause Exception. But even if “expedited” such review and grant of exception takes time and often interferes with teaching schedules.

Thus, in my experience, the most effective way to avoid delay in reinstatement is to immediately upon engagement advise the client to attend 26 sessions of domestic violence counseling, preferably compressed, regardless of the merits of the case, and put together a document-detailed communication to the prosecutor, described above, apprising them of the situation, and asking them to consider seriously an early resolution, in the interest of preserving a career.

Nurses

A similar analysis applies to clinical nursing where the client is mandatorily credentialled with a fingerprint clearance card. But one important caveat: Unlike teachers, all nurses, and most other healthcare professionals, are required by law to notify the Arizona Sate Board of Nursing of the arrest. And to do so within ten days of arrest. Failure to do so in a timely manner is separate grounds for professional discipline.

As a practical matter, the nurse must in most situations notify the employer as well. And for those nurses whose clinical positions require fingerprint clearance cards, interruption in work, reassignment, or even termination may occur regardless of diligence.

It may be due to suspensions of fingerprint clearance card itself, the most direct indicator, or fact of arrest that may trigger concerns with credentialling, institutional policy, and more, especially if alcohol is involved.

In any such situation, a nurse, like a teacher, who holds a fingerprint clearance card, and needs one to work, the mere arrest for a misdemeanor domestic violence charge is a very serious matter that requires immediate skilled attention.

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Michael Harwin

About Michael Harwin

Michael’s skill and experience have been recognized repeatedly. He holds an A-V 5/5 preeminent rating by Martindale Hubbell. He has been named one of the top lawyers in Arizona by Southwest Superlawyers, and one of the best lawyers in Tucson by Tucson Lifestyle Magazine. He also has been named one of the best lawyers in the United States by BestofUS.com , and given the highest rating possible by AVVO, 10/10 Superb. Amazon Books