In immigration law, the concept of a crime involving moral turpitude is often discussed, but it doesn’t necessarily have a specific definition.
This is difficult because it can impact deportation and inadmissibility.
A crime involving moral turpitude in a general sense is characterized by behavior where there’s knowing, purposeful intent to do wrong.
In one case, the Board of Immigration Appeals referred to it as conduct that shocks the public conscience. The Board, in that case, went on to describe it as inherently depraved, vile, or base against the rules of morality and duties owed between people and society in general.
A crime of moral turpitude isn’t defined in the U.S. immigration statute, despite its significant influence on immigration.
Below, we break down more specifically what a crime of moral turpitude might refer to, specifically within the context of immigration.
If you have a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude on your record, or even if you admit to the crime, it can block your application for a visa or green card. If you’re already in the U.S. with a visa or green card, you could be removed from the country if you commit a crime that’s described in “Crimes That Will Make an Immigrant Deportable.”
A crime involving moral turpitude or CIMT on your record can block you as a green card holder from showing the good moral character that’s required for a successful U.S. citizenship application.
With that being said, you’ll never see someone actually charged with a crime of moral turpitude because it’s a catch-all description that can apply to nearly any crime.
There are some people who feel that it’s too vague, but not much has been done to change it in the face of those arguments, despite how important it is for immigration law.
The relevant agencies and U.S. courts are left to deal with what a crime of moral turpitude is since it’s not defined within immigration law in any explicit way.
The legal definition has mostly been created through the Board of Immigration Appeals written opinions.
The Board of Immigration Appeals has said it’s a nebulous concept. It’s also been said that a person who’s committing a crime of moral turpitude would be doing so either because they’re behaving recklessly or with evil intent.
Federal courts have called CIMTs as per se morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong.
All of these words mean it’s very subjective.
If an immigration judge or official thinks that a crime sounds like it’s one that was morally wrong, then it’s likely going to be considered a crime of moral turpitude.
A crime can be defined as a CIMT regardless of how severely it’s viewed in the criminal justice system, the sentence imposed, and whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony.
Specific offenses that have been determined CIMTs in individual immigration cases by the government of the U.S. and by the courts are broad and include:
Involuntary and voluntary manslaughter
Failure to register as a sex-offender
Most criminal convictions come from state law, so then things get even more complex. For example, the state’s statutes could affect the determination of whether a crime would be considered a CIMT.
Crimes that are considered being CIMTs are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Despite the enormous amount of a gray area in this catch-all umbrella term, if you’re convicted of a crime that’s determined to fall into this category, it can significantly affect your life, even outside of the criminal charges and repercussions of those.
There may be changes to your immigration status.
If your plan is to go through the process of naturalization and you’re convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, it is going to jeopardize your immigration status.
If you want to become a U.S. citizen, you have to show good moral character, which would be negated by a history of a crime involving moral turpitude.
If you’re considered inadmissible as a result, then you’re denied entry into the U.S. You would also be prevented from getting an immigrant or non-immigrant visa or beginning the path to citizenship.
If you’re deportable, then immigration authorities can start removal proceedings, meaning that you can be forcibly removed.
If you’re convicted of at least two crimes on two separate occasions that are classified as moral turpitude, you can be considered deportable.
You also have to be in removal proceedings if you’re convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude within five years of your visa.
If you commit a petty offense, you could still legally be considered admissible.
If the crime involves a sentence of fewer than six months, is your only offense, or is punishable by less than a year, you might still be seen as admissible.
If you’re charged with a crime involving moral turpitude, one of the best things to do is talk to an immigration lawyer as soon as you can. Since these are determined case-by-case, when you talk to a lawyer, they can help you figure out whether or not a conviction would likely be considered a CIMT.
There could be defense routes available to you.
For example, there are requests to reduce charges if the charges can’t be dismissed.
Having a strong defense can be helpful.
You may also find yourself in a situation where you’re accused of a crime, but there’s a weak argument against you or illegal or limited evidence. An immigration attorney, in this case, might be able to file a motion to dismiss charges.
Finally, if you are in the U.S. and you are convicted of a crime, whether you’re with or without immigration status, there’s a good likelihood that immigration authorities will find out. They often check the immigration status of people who are in prison or jail. You could also bring it to their attention during something like requesting a green card renewal.