If you find yourself under arrest in Texas for a charge of driving while intoxicated (DWI), you are at risk of facings serious consequences like incarceration, fines, and the suspension of your driving privileges. But your potential problems don't stop there if you hold a CPA -- Certified Public Accountant -- license. Your license is the key to your livelihood, but in certain circumstances, a DWI conviction could potentially lead to the suspension or revocation of your accountant's license.
You've got a lot to lose and your best chance at protecting your livelihood and freedom is by fighting the charges against you. To do that, you'll need to the help of an experienced DWI defense attorney. If you are facing DWI charges in the Houston area, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is ready to help you defend yourself to give you the best chance of winning.
Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Licensing in Texas
In Texas, the licensing of certified public accountants is administered by the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy (TSBPA). The Board consists of 15 members appointed by the Governor; ten of which are licensed CPAs and five of which are members of the public that work in fields outside of accounting. It is the mission of the TSBPA to:
protect the public by ensuring that persons issued certificates as CPAs possess the necessary education, skills, and capabilities and that they perform competently in the profession of public accountancy.
The TSBPA is charged with the certification process for accountants and auditors. It is within their purview to discipline CPAs through a license suspension or revocation when their code of ethics, known as the CPA Rules of Professional Conduct, is violated.
CPA Rules of Professional Conduct
The CPA Rules of Professional Conduct are written into Title 22 of the Texas Administrative Code. The rules cover everything from an accountant's responsibility to their clients and their adherence to continuing education requirements.
However, the part of the CPA Rules of Professional Conduct that relate directly to a DWI conviction is contained in the section of the code pertaining to an accountant's responsibilities to the profession of accounting. Specifically, the rules bar accountants from acts that would discredit the accounting profession as a whole.
The Disciplinary Process
The disciplinary process under the TSBPA is relatively informal. A disciplinary action begins with a complaint that can come in the form of either:
- a written complaint; or
- self-reported violation.
The Board will initially review all complaints. If a complaint is found to have merit, you will be notified in writing of the investigation. Along with the notification, the Board may also send you written requests for information or documentation. You will have 30 days to respond. If you fail to respond or the answers do not sway the Board, your case will be forwarded to the enforcement committee.
During the enforcement committee process, you will have the opportunity to negotiate with the Board about potentially reaching an Agreed Consent Order. This order would spell out what violations you are not disputing as well as the punishment. You are under no obligation to enter into an Agreed Consent Order and are entitled to a hearing before the State Office of Administrative Hearings. You have the right to an attorney during the entirety of the disciplinary process, including at the hearing. Doug Murphy has successfully handled over 1000 hearings before the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
Will a DWI Conviction in Houston Lead to Discipline from the TSBPA?
As discussed above, the CPA Rules of Professional Conduct bar any discreditable acts that reflect adversely on your ability to engage in the practice of public accountancy. Rule §501.90 sets out a lengthy list of conduct that is in violation of the rules. While these rules are broad, one relates directly to DWI and other substance-related crimes.
According to the rule, an example of a discreditable act includes:
final conviction of any crime or imposition of deferred adjudication or community supervision in connection with a criminal prosecution, an element of which is dishonesty or fraud under the laws of any state or the United States, a criminal prosecution for a crime of moral turpitude, a criminal prosecution involving alcohol abuse or controlled substances, or a criminal prosecution for a crime involving physical harm or the threat of physical harm.
There are two important things to take away from this rule:
- Only a conviction or final adjudication of a charge counts as a discreditable act, and
- A criminal prosecution relating to drugs or alcohol, which includes DWI, is a qualifying crime.
It's worth reiterating that only a final conviction or adjudication is grounds for discipline from the TSBPA. That means that the arrest alone is not grounds for disciplinary action. They key is to hire a qualified lawyer who can win your DWI case so that you are not convicted.
Another, separate basis for disciplinary action is the failure to report a conviction to the TSBPA. CPAs are required to immediately report any misdemeanor convictions related to drugs or alcohol and any felony convictions.
What Actions can the TSBPA Take in Texas?
The investigation may determine that no rule was broken. But if the Board determines that a rule was broken, it has leeway in dishing out punishment.
The possible penalties include:
Reprimand: The lowest level of disciplinary action, a reprimand involves the Board acknowledging that a rule was broken but limiting punishment to sending you a written acknowledgment of the broken rule.
Corrective Action: A step above a reprimand, corrective action requires you to take specific steps to correct issues that led to the breach of the rules. These are uncommon in DWI-related cases.
Education Requirements: The Board may require you to receive additional professional classes or substance abuse treatment.
Probation: In some instances, the Board may put a CPA on probation with the possibility of a future suspension if certain requirements are not met.
Limitation of your Practice: The Board can prevent a CPA for taking on certain accounting or bookkeeping duties.
Suspension or revocation of your license: The most severe penalties available to the TSBPA include the ability to suspend or revoke your CPA license.
Other Consequences for a DWI Arrest or Conviction in Texas
You could still face serious major consequences from a DWI conviction in your professional life even if you don't face a suspension or revocation of your license from the Board. Your employer may have stringent restrictions on DWI arrests. While an arrest won't lead to your license suspension, there is no guarantee it won't lead to the termination of your employment.
If you are a prospective accountant seeking certification, your DWI conviction could prevent you from ever getting licensed by the State Board. The Board is required by statute to perform in-depth criminal history checks on every accountant seeking certification, and a DWI conviction could be enough to prevent you from being licensed.
You may also face hardship with future employment. Most potential employers will run their own background checks, and a DWI conviction will raise red flags for many of them. The truth is that it is an employer's market, and every opening has a large number of applicants. With a black mark on your criminal history, it is highly likely potential employers won't want to take the risk.
Finally, many employers in Harris County and surrounding counties require all employees to maintain valid driver's licenses. This could be another hindrance to your career, as one of the consequences of a DWI conviction is the suspension of your driving privileges. While it may be possible to obtain a restricted driver's license that allows you to travel to work during your suspension, there's no guarantee that such an exemption would satisfy your employer.
Steps to take if you are Arrested for DWI in Texas while holding an Accountant's License
If you are arrested in the Houston area under suspicion of DWI, there are a few tips to remember that may help you keep your accountant's license. The most important one is to never discuss your case with anyone other than your lawyer or immediate family. This includes refraining from discussing the case with the police, friends, or colleagues.
The most important step after you have been arrested for DWI is hiring an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney. An attorney that is Board Certified as an expert in criminal defense law and DWI defense law offers you the best chance of avoiding a DWI conviction and the consequences that come with it.
Hiring a Houston DWI Defense Attorney that Can Help Save your CPA License
For CPAs, a DWI conviction can jeopardize your livelihood. If you have been charged with a DWI in the Houston, Texas area, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to discuss your case. Doug Murphy understands what a DWI conviction could mean for your career and is prepared to build a defense that will give you the best chance at a positive outcome. A Board Certified expert in both DWI defense and criminal defense law, Doug Murphy has the experience and knowledge to help you through this difficult circumstance. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today for a free consultation.