CRS 12-36-129 - Unauthorized Practice of Medicine in Colorado

CRS 12-36-129 defines the Colorado offense of the unauthorized practice of medicine (without a medical license).

It occurs when a person:

  • advertises oneself or holds oneself out to be
  • a person able to
    • diagnose,
    • medically treat,
    • prescribe for,
    • palliate,
    • prevent, or
    • operate
  • any human
    • disease,
    • ailment,
    • pain,
    • injury,
    • disorder
  • when the person is not licensed or qualified to do so.

Claiming to be a Doctor

A person may hold him or herself out as a physician by:

  • advertising him or herself as a doctor;
  • presenting another person's credentials;
  • claiming to have a degree through the use of doctor title initials; or
  • providing a fake medical license.

Criminal Penalties

Any person who commits the unauthorized practice of medicine for the first time is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

Penalties can include fines and jail time. Subsequent charges for the same crime can result in a felony conviction.

Below, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about the unauthorized practice of medicine for Colorado residents:

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1. What is the unauthorized practice of medicine in Colorado?

CRS 12-36-129 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 12-36-129. 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.[4]

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?

Any person who commits the unauthorized practice of medicine for the first time is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

The penalties range from:

  • minimum of 3 months in jail and/or $250 in fines; and
  • maximum of 12 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.5

4.1 Can this charge become a felony?

A person that commits a second or subsequent offense is guilty of a Class 6 felony.

Certain other activities may also result in a Class 6 felony charge even for a first-time offense:

  • presents as his or her own the diploma, certificate, credentials, or license of another;
  • gives false or forged evidence of any kind to the medical board in connection with an application for a medical license of any kind;
  • practices medicine, as a physician assistant, or as an anesthesiologist assistant under a false or assumed name; or
  • falsely impersonates another person with a license of a like or different name.

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.6

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 not 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.

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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.


Legal References:

  1. CRS 12-36-129 (Unauthorized practice--penalties).
  2. CRS 12-36-106 (Practice of medicine defined--exemptions from licensing requirements--unauthorized practice by physician assistants and anesthesiologist assistants--penalties-rules--repeal).
  3. CRS 12-36-106(1)(a)-(d).
  4. CRS 12-36-129(2).
  5. CRS 18-1.3-501.
  6. CRS 18-1.3-401.

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