CRS 12-240-135 is the Colorado statute that prohibits the unauthorized practice of medicine (without a medical license). The offense is prosecuted as a class 6 felony carrying one year to 18 months in jail and/or $1,000 to $100,000 in fines.
Below, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about the unauthorized practice of medicine for Colorado residents:
- 1. What is the unauthorized practice of medicine in Colorado?
- 2. How does a person “hold him or herself out” as a doctor under Colorado law?
- 3. What is the typical situation for this kind of criminal charge?
- 4. What are the penalties if I am convicted of this crime?
- 5. What defenses can I raise to this criminal charge?
1. What is the unauthorized practice of medicine in Colorado?
CRS 12-240-135 defines the Colorado offense of the unauthorized practice of medicine.1
It can occur when a person is:
- writing prescriptions without permission;
- practicing surgery upon another human being;
- recommending a certain course of treatment;
- interpreting medical test results (e.g. x-rays, MRI’s, blood tests, etc.); or
- acting as a licensed psychotherapist without a license.3
1.1 Does the unlicensed person have to cause harm to be charged with this crime?
No. A person who engages in activities that are considered the unauthorized practice of medicine do not have to commit any kind of harm to be charged with a crime.
In fact, it is entirely possible that the person did a great job, and said the same thing a licensed doctor would have, but he or she could still be charged under CRS 12-240-135. There is no requirement for harm or even intent to harm another person.
Example: Chloe is an immigrant from France and was a highly respected family doctor while she lived there. When she immigrated to the United States, she did not carry over her medical license. While living in Colorado, she begins a medical practice and works with under-served populations to provide affordable and often free healthcare.
She provides excellent medical advice and saves the lives of a number of children who were very ill. However, because she is unlicensed in the United States and Colorado, she could be charged with the unauthorized practice of medicine, despite her best intentions and excellent work as a doctor.
2. How does a person “hold him or herself out” as a doctor under Colorado law?
An individual can act as a physician by:
- claiming a status as a doctor through advertisements;
- presenting a diploma, license, certificate or credentials of another person;
- placing title M.D., D.O., physician, surgeon, or other word or abbreviation which indicates a license to practice medicine behind a person’s name;
- giving false or forged evidence of licensure; or
- practicing medicine under his or her own name or an assumed name.
Any act that would cause a reasonable person to believe another person is an actively licensed doctor, when he or she is not, is sufficient to be considered “holding oneself out” as a doctor.
3. What is the typical situation for this kind of criminal charge?
The typical case for the unauthorized practice of medicine may look similar to any of the following:
- a doctor who is operating on a suspended or “inactive” license;
- a medical assistant performing functions only a licensed physician should perform;
- a nurse giving medical advice that is outside of his or her expertise; or
- a person acting as a doctor to commit fraud, theft, or sex crime.
Any facts that fit the definition of impermissible practice can lead to criminal charges.
4. What are the penalties if I am convicted of this crime?
Unauthorized practice of medicine is a class 6 felony. The penalties for the Class 6 felony charge include:
- minimum of 1 year in prison and/or $1,000 in fines; or
- maximum of 18 months in prison and/or $100,000 in fines; and
- mandatory parole of 1 year.4
5. What defenses can I raise to this criminal charge?
A person can defend him or herself from criminal charges through various defenses, such as, but not limited to:
- the person’s actions do not meet the legal definition of practicing medicine;
- the person is licensed to perform the activities he or she performed;
- the person was falsely accused; or
- there is no proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime charged.
Every case is different, but every case deserves a proper defense. With the right defense, charges can often be reduced or possibly even dismissed.
Call us for help…
For questions about the unauthorized practice of medicine or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us. (For cases in California or Nevada, please see our discussions of unauthorized practice of medicine in California and unauthorized practice of medicine in Nevada).
We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities.
- CRS 12-240-135. The statute reads that: (1) Any person who practices or offers or attempts to practice medicine, practice as a physician assistant, or practice as an anesthesiologist assistant within this state without an active license issued under this article 240 is subject to penalties pursuant to section 12-20-407 (1)(a).
(2) Any person who engages in any of the following activities commits a class 6 felony and shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-401:
(a) Presents as his or her own the diploma, license, certificate, or credentials of another;
(b) Gives either false or forged evidence of any kind to the board or any board member in connection with an application for a license to practice medicine, practice as a physician assistant, or practice as an anesthesiologist assistant;
(c) Practices medicine, practices as a physician assistant, or practices as an anesthesiologist assistant under a false or assumed name; or
(d) Falsely impersonates another licensee of a like or different name.
(3) Any person who violates section 12-240-121 (1)(p) commits a class 5 felony, and any person committing a second or subsequent violation commits a class 3 felony; and those persons shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-401.
(4) No action may be maintained against an individual who has been the recipient of services constituting the unlawful practice of medicine, unlawful practice as a physician assistant, or unlawful practice as an anesthesiologist assistant, for the breach of a contract involving the unlawful practice of medicine, unlawful practice as a physician assistant, or unlawful practice as an anesthesiologist assistant or the recovery of compensation for services rendered under such a contract.
(5) When an individual has been the recipient of services constituting the unlawful practice of medicine, unlawful practice as a physician assistant, or unlawful practice as an anesthesiologist assistant, whether or not the individual knew that the rendition of the services was unlawful:
(a) The individual or the individual’s personal representative is entitled to recover the amount of any fee paid for the services; and
(b) The individual or the individual’s personal representative may also recover a reasonable attorney fee as fixed by the court, to be assessed as part of the costs of the action.
(a) No specialty society, association of physicians, or licensed physician may discriminate against any person licensed to practice medicine if the physician is qualified for membership in the specialty society or association. If board certification or eligibility in a specialty is a membership requirement, certification or eligibility by either the American Board of Medical Specialties or the American Osteopathic Association based upon the applicant’s training as a doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathy, is sufficient. Notwithstanding any other remedies provided under this article 240, a licensed physician who is discriminated against in violation of this section shall have a private right of action against the licensed physician or specialty society or association that so discriminates.
(b) Any licensed physician, specialty society, or association of physicians held liable for a violation of this subsection (6) shall pay the costs and reasonable attorney fees incurred by the aggrieved physician associated with his or her pursuit of any claim for relief authorized by this subsection (6).
(7) The board may apply in accordance with section 12-20-406 for an injunction to enjoin any person from committing any act prohibited by this article 240.
(Unauthorized practice of medicine was formerly prosecuted under CRS 12-36-129. It was usually punished as a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by 3 to 12 months in jail and fines of $250 to $1,000. HB 19-1172.)
- CRS 12-240-107.
- See note 1.