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AGO 1956 No. 291 - June 28, 1956
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

PHYSICIANS AND SURGEONS ‑- REVOCATION OF LICENSE

A physician and surgeon who has been convicted in Federal court of the crime of attempting to evade the payment of income tax has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and his license is subject to revocation.

                                                                   - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   June 28, 1956

Dr. James H. Berge
Chairman
Washington State Medical Disciplinary Board
Stimson Building
Seattle 1, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 291


Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have submitted to this office for opinion the following question:

            "Has a person who is licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the state of Washington, and who has been convicted in a Federal court of the offense of income tax evasion, been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude as defined in our statute, RCW 18.72.030 (1)?"

            Our answer is in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 18.72.030 (1) provides as follows:

            "The term 'unprofessional conduct' as used in this chapter and RCW 18.71.120 and 18.71.140 shall mean the following items or any one or combination thereof:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "(1) Conviction in any court of any offense involving moral turpitude, in which case the record of such conviction shall be conclusive evidence;"

            The Federal statute defining income tax evasion is 26 U.S.C.A., § 145 (b), which reads as follows:

            "Any person required under this chapter to collect, account for, any pay over any tax imposed by this chapter, who willfully fails to collect or truthfully account for and pay over such tax, and any person who willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any tax imposed by this chapter or the payment thereof, shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned for not more than five years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution."

            In your letter you further state, "We want to be very sure that this offense constitutes moral turpitude and that it comes under our jurisdiction."  Accordingly, we have made an exhaustive research as to the law defining moral turpitude.  There are a great many definitions of the phrase "moral turpitude," many of them of a contradictory nature.  However, it is our opinion that the definition most generally adopted in the majority of the jurisdictions in the United States is as follows:

            "Everything done contrary to justice, honesty, or good morals is said to be done with turpitude."

            This definition was adopted by our supreme court as early as 1909 in the case ofIn re Hopkins, 54 Wash. 569.  The case involved disbarment proceedings against an attorney who had been charged with, and convicted in Federal court, of certifying and making false affidavits to be used in claims for pensions in violation of U.S. Rev.Stat., § 4746.  The Penalty for the violation of the Federal statute is fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.  The supreme court held that this constituted an act of dishonesty involving moral turpitude.  Quoting from page 572 of the opinion, the court said:

            "Now, do the acts found against the appellant, and for which he was convicted in the Federal court, violate the commonly accepted standard of good morals, honesty, and  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] justice?  Suppose we measure his conduct in this regard, not by any puritanical standard, but by the standard of right conduct generally prevailing among our people, uninfluenced by the fact that the statute law also punishes such conduct as a crime.  What, then, is the answer to the question whether or not such acts involve moral turpitude?  It seems to us that there can be but one answer, and that is against the contention of the learned counsel for appellant.  Certainly a false statement, made with full knowledge of its falsity, concerning a matter of serious moment, the purpose of which is to influence those in authority in determining their official acts, involves a question of morals, whether such statement be made under the sanctity of an oath to speak the truth or under the sanctity of official obligation to speak the truth.  This presents a question of right conduct from a purely moral standpoint, independent of the fact that the law prescribes a punishment for the making of such false statements. . . ."

            This definition of moral turpitude as announced in the Hopkins case has been cited with approval and followed by our supreme court in the following cases:  State Board of Medical Examiners v. Harrison, 92 Wash. 577; In re Comyns, 132 Wash. 391; In re Finch, 156 Wash. 609; and In re Liliopoulos, 175 Wash. 338.

            A similar definition of moral turpitude has been adopted and used many times by the supreme court of the state of California.  It is our opinion that the definition above given is firmly established in a great many of the jurisdictions of the United States.  It is true that the supreme court of the United States has said that fraud is not a necessary ingredient of the crime of income tax evasion as defined in the Federal statute hereinabove quoted.  However, in our opinion, fraud is not the only crime that involves moral turpitude.  We feel that the evasion or the attempt to evade the payment of income taxes justly due the Federal government is a crime involving immorality and dishonesty.  Therefore we see no escape from the conclusion that this crime is one involving moral turpitude.

            It is our conclusion that a physician who has been convicted of such a crime has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and is subject to the revocation of his license to practice as a physician and surgeon in this state.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We trust that the foregoing analysis will prove helpful to you.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


ROY C. FOX
Assistant Attorney General

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