What is a crime of “Moral Turpitude”?
Crime of Moral Turpitude for Immigration Purposes
Various crimes, both minor and serious, felonies and misdemeanors, are classified as crimes involving moral turpitude and carry serious immigration consequences concerning inadmissibility and deportability. Whether a moral turpitude conviction will cause deportability or inadmissibility depends on the number of moral turpitude convictions. (see below)
Why does this matter?
A noncitizen is deportable if, after admission to the United States, he or she is convicted of the following:
- Two crimes involving moral turpitude not arising from a single scheme of misconduct, or
- One crime involving moral turpitude when the person committed the offense within 5 years after admission if the possible sentence was 1 year or more.
Example of two crimes of moral turpitude as ground for deportation:
Jane obtained her “green card” in 1967. She then had two petty theft convictions, one in 1968 and one in 2008. Jane is deportable for two crimes of moral turpitude committed at any time after admission.
Definition of “Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude” – Almost Always Intent Crimes
The phrase “crime of moral turpitude” has been vaguely defined as a crime involving either (i) dishonesty or (ii) base, vile, or depraved conduct that “shocks the public conscience.” To qualify as a crime involving moral turpitude for the purposes of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a crime must involve both reprehensible conduct and some degree of scienter, whether specific intent, deliberateness, willfulness, or recklessness. This means a crime of moral turpitude includes any conviction requiring proof that the defendant willfully or knowingly committed an act that causes “significant societal harm” or reprehensible conduct that is committed intentionally or with willfulness or recklessness.
The definition does not necessarily depend on whether the offense is classified as a misdemeanor or felony. Although the definition doesn’t always give clear guidance, one guarantee is these crimes always involve some form of criminal intent.
Examples of “Crime Involving Moral Turpitude”
The examples provided are not an exhaustive list and it is important to note that courts continue to disagree when categorizing certain crimes as one involving “moral turpitude.”
Examples of crimes found to involve “moral turpitude” include:
- Most sexual offenses including sex with a minor knowing the minor was under the age of 16,
- Drug trafficking offenses,
- Voluntary manslaughter,
- Burglary with intent to commit theft,
- Burglary when there is unlawful entry,
- Theft (grand or petty, when there is an intent to permanently deprive),
- Aggravated forms of assault,
- Crimes with a specific intent to defraud, and
- On the other hand, the list below has not:
- Involuntary manslaughter,
- Simple assault or battery,
- Driving under the influence (when no injury occurs),
- Misdemeanor false imprisonment, and
- Indecent exposure.