What is a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

A crime of moral turpitude is a category of criminal offense, and as such, it can impact your immigration status. It has a frustratingly vague definition but it’s broadly defined as an act that is depraved or immoral, or a violation of the basic duties owed to your fellow man. It can also be defined as a reprehensible act and you generally have to have a level of intent of at least recklessness to qualify.

Because of the broad definition, the crimes that will constitute a crime of moral turpitude will differ from state to state. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate your offense to see whether you might fall into this category. Sometimes it’s not an easy determination. It’s something that an immigration attorney might have to look to prior case law to determine the answer to.

Examples of a Crime of Moral Turpitude

In general, most offenses that involve an intent to commit to a fraud, a theft, or an intent to inflict bodily harm on someone will usually qualify. There are also a number of other reckless or malicious acts that can qualify as crimes of moral turpitude, as well as crimes that involve sexual assault or misconduct. There is a long list, so it’s best to consult an attorney about your specific conviction.

Why Are Crimes of Moral Turpitude Distinguished?

They’re distinguished from other crimes because they’re discussed in the Immigration and Nationality Act as types of offenses that the government believes should bar you from receiving immigration status in the United States. They matter in immigration proceedings because they make you inadmissible. So, they are relevant to people who are applying for status for the first time in the United States, or people who are applying to change or “adjust” their status.

Common Myths About Crime of Moral Turpitude

A lot of times people think that crimes of moral turpitude should be obvious to designate as such. They should be crimes that sound really bad on paper or sound like offenses that would really present a danger to the community. But often the crimes that are actually categorized as crimes of moral turpitude are somewhat surprising. You wouldn’t logically think that they would carry such intense consequences.

An example of this could be like writing a bad check. That could be construed by immigration law to be a fraudulent offense and most offenses that involve fraud are considered to be crimes of moral turpitude. So, while certain assaults may not be considered crimes of moral turpitude, something that is more administrative in nature or intuitively less serious like writing a bad check might actually be considered a crime of moral turpitude and carry more serious consequences.

A big reason people have this misconception is because the term itself sounds like it’s describing something that is simply reprehensible. Couple this with the fact that the actual definition that lawyers have to work with is very broad, very vague and has been extensively litigated throughout the years, makes it a really  difficult area of immigration law. So there really not a clear answer about what a crime of moral turpitude is, and it is a category of crimes that is constantly evolving with case law.

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