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What is Moral Turpitude? A Comprehensive Guide

Introduction to Moral Turpitude

Moral turpitude is a legal concept that refers to conduct that is considered inherently base, vile, or depraved — contrary to accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general. It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the legal world, but what does it actually mean? And why is it so important?The truth is, moral turpitude is a pretty vague and ambiguous term. There’s no clear-cut definition or list of crimes that automatically qualify as involving moral turpitude. Instead, it’s kind of a judgment call that gets made on a case-by-case basis by courts, judges, and other legal authorities.But don’t worry, we’re here to break it all down for you in plain English. By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid understanding of what moral turpitude is, why it matters, and how it could potentially impact your life. So let’s dive right in, shall we?

Why Does Moral Turpitude Matter?

You might be wondering, “Okay, but why should I care about this moral turpitude thing?” Fair question! Moral turpitude matters for a few key reasons:

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  1. Immigration consequences – Having a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) on your record can make you inadmissible to the United States or deportable if you’re already here. We’ll go into more detail on this later, but it’s a huge deal for non-citizens.
  2. Professional licenses – Many professional licenses (like for doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc.) can be denied, suspended or revoked if you’ve been convicted of a CIMT. Your moral character is a big factor for these licensing boards.
  3. Witness credibility – If you’re ever a witness in a court case, the opposing side can potentially use a prior CIMT conviction to attack your credibility and make you seem less trustworthy.
  4. Employment contracts – Some employment and sponsorship contracts have “moral turpitude clauses” that allow termination if the employee is convicted of a CIMT.

So in a nutshell, being branded with a CIMT can have all sorts of crappy consequences that extend way beyond just the direct criminal penalties. It’s not something to be taken lightly!

Defining Moral Turpitude

Okay, but what exactly constitutes moral turpitude? This is where things get a bit murky. As we mentioned, there’s no definitive statutory definition or checklist of qualifying crimes. It’s more of an umbrella term that covers a wide range of disreputable conduct.That said, here are a few key characteristics of crimes typically considered to involve moral turpitude:

  • Inherent baseness, vileness or depravity that shocks the public conscience
  • Conduct that is immoral, depraved or contrary to accepted moral standards
  • Malicious intent or culpable mental state beyond mere negligence (like willfulness, recklessness, etc.)
  • An element of fraud, deceit or infliction of harm

Some examples of crimes that are generally deemed to involve moral turpitude include fraud, theft, robbery, aggravated assault, rape, murder, voluntary manslaughter, and various sex crimes against minors. But again, there’s no exhaustive list.On the flip side, crimes like simple assault, DUI, and disorderly conduct are typically not considered CIMTs because they lack that evil, depraved intent element.Ultimately, whether a particular crime qualifies as one involving “moral turpitude” is a case-by-case determination made by a judge or other authority based on the specific facts and circumstances. It’s a subjective, nebulous concept for sure.

Moral Turpitude in Immigration Law

Of all the areas where moral turpitude comes into play, immigration law is probably the biggest. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), there are various grounds of inadmissibility and deportability related to CIMTs.For instance, a non-citizen convicted of a single CIMT that carries a potential sentence of 1 year or longer can be deemed inadmissible to the United States and denied a green card or other immigration benefits. And a permanent resident (green card holder) convicted of a single CIMT at any time after admission can potentially be placed into removal proceedings.There are some exceptions, like the petty offense exception which forgives a single CIMT with a maximum potential sentence of 1 year or less and an actual sentence imposed of 6 months or less. But in general, CIMTs are a huge red flag in the immigration world.The government agencies like USCIS and immigration courts use a “categorical approach” to determine if a particular criminal conviction qualifies as a CIMT. They look at the statutory definition of the crime, not the underlying facts of the specific case.So for example, a conviction for petty theft under a state statute might be deemed a CIMT because the statute criminalizes inherently dishonest conduct. But a conviction for simple battery might not be, because the statute could cover both turpitudinous conduct (like intentionally harmful acts) and non-turpitudinous conduct (like reckless shoving matches).It’s a complicated analysis that often involves close examination of statutes, case law precedent, and the “minimum conduct” that could theoretically be prosecuted under a particular criminal statute. Needless to say, it’s an area of law where having an experienced immigration lawyer is crucial.

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Moral Turpitude and Professional Licenses

Another major area where moral turpitude is relevant is for professional licenses and disciplinary proceedings. Many occupations and licensing boards have rules about good moral character and can deny, suspend or revoke licenses for CIMTs.For example, pretty much every state bar association scrutinizes applications for any past convictions involving moral turpitude when deciding whether to admit new attorneys. The same goes for medical boards overseeing doctors and nurses. Ditto for teaching credentials, real estate licenses, and so on.The reasoning is that someone who has committed an act of moral depravity that offends societal ethics may not be fit or trustworthy enough to practice certain professions, especially those involving fiduciary duties to clients or working with vulnerable populations.So if you’re planning to enter a licensed profession, or you already have a professional license, it’s absolutely critical to understand how a CIMT on your record could impact your career path. An experienced professional license defense lawyer would be invaluable in this scenario.

Crimes Commonly Considered to Involve Moral Turpitude

To give you a better sense of what types of crimes tend to be classified as CIMTs, here are some common examples:

  • Fraud (insurance fraud, tax fraud, credit card fraud, etc.)
  • Theft (petty theft, grand theft, burglary, robbery)
  • Crimes of violence with an intent to injure (aggravated assault, voluntary manslaughter)
  • Sex crimes (rape, child molestation, soliciting prostitution)
  • Crimes against family/domestic violence
  • Bribery, extortion, money laundering
  • Perjury, making false statements
  • Possession of child pornography
  • Arson
  • Kidnapping
  • Blackmail
  • Animal cruelty

Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and whether any particular crime counts as a CIMT can vary based on the specific statute, circumstances, and jurisdiction. But those are some of the biggies.On the other hand, crimes that are more reckless or negligent in nature and don’t involve an evil intent are less likely to be deemed CIMTs. Think DUIs, simple assaults, disorderly conduct, reckless driving, and the like.

Potential Defenses to Moral Turpitude Findings

If you’re in a situation where a past criminal conviction is being classified as a crime involving moral turpitude, with all the negative consequences that could bring, don’t give up hope! There may be some potential defenses and arguments your lawyer can make, such as:

  • Challenging whether the specific statute you were convicted under actually qualifies as a CIMT under the categorical approach
  • Arguing that your specific conduct didn’t involve the requisite evil intent for moral turpitude
  • Negotiating for a conviction of a non-CIMT offense through a plea bargain
  • Seeking post-conviction relief like expungements or record sealing to minimize the impacts
  • For immigration cases, arguing for relief like the petty offense exception or youthful offender exception

The key is having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who understands the nuances of moral turpitude law and can craft the best possible defense strategy for your situation. Don’t just plead guilty without exploring all options first!

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Moral Turpitude – Concluding Thoughts

Look, we get it – the whole concept of “moral turpitude” is pretty murky and confusing, even for those of us in the legal profession. There’s a lot of subjectivity and gray area involved in deciding what conduct crosses that line into depravity.But at the same time, it’s a hugely important concept that can have massive real-world impacts, especially for non-citizens, licensed professionals, and anyone who values their reputation in the community. A finding of moral turpitude isn’t just some academic exercise – it can derail careers, tear families apart, and forever tarnish your record.So if you’re in any situation where moral turpitude could potentially come into play, whether it’s an arrest, professional disciplinary matter, immigration issue, or anything else, take it seriously. Don’t try to navigate those murky waters alone. Having a top-notch criminal defense lawyer who specializes in this area of law is an absolute must.At the end of the day, “moral turpitude” may be an ambiguous legal phrase, but the real-world consequences are anything but ambiguous. Protect yourself accordingly.

Key Takeaways

To summarize the key points about moral turpitude:

  • It refers to inherently base, vile, or depraved conduct that violates accepted moral standards
  • There’s no definitive list – it’s judged on a case-by-case basis looking at factors like intent
  • Having a conviction for a CIMT can have huge immigration consequences like inadmissibility/deportation
  • It can also impact professional licenses, witness credibility, employment contracts, and more
  • Common CIMTs include fraud, theft, violent crimes, sex crimes, and crimes against family
  • Potential defenses include challenging the statute, negotiating pleas, post-conviction relief
  • It’s crucial to have an experienced lawyer for any situation involving potential moral turpitude findings

We know it’s a lot to digest, but understanding this nebulous concept is vital for anyone who could potentially have their life derailed by a moral turpitude determination. If you ever find yourself in that situation, don’t go it alone – having the right legal representation is absolutely essential.

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FAQs on Moral Turpitude

To provide some additional clarity, here are answers to some frequently asked questions about crimes involving moral turpitude:

What’s the actual legal definition of moral turpitude?

There’s no single statutory definition, but it generally refers to conduct that is inherently base, vile, depraved, immoral, and contrary to accepted moral duties owed to others and society. It’s a nebulous concept that gets defined through case law.

Are all felonies considered crimes of moral turpitude?

No, not necessarily. While many felonies do involve moral turpitude by their nature (like murder, rape, robbery, etc.), some felonies are not considered CIMTs because they lack that “evil” intent element. It’s judged on a case-by-case basis.

What about misdemeanors – can they be CIMTs?

Yes, absolutely. The key isn’t the crime’s classification as a misdemeanor or felony, but rather the inherent nature of the offense. Crimes like misdemeanor theft, assault, making false statements, and soliciting prostitution are commonly deemed to involve moral turpitude despite being “just” misdemeanors.

How do I know if my conviction qualifies as a CIMT?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to know for sure without having an experienced lawyer review your specific conviction and circumstances. The determination gets made through a complex analysis of statutes, case law precedent, and the minimum conduct covered by the criminal statute.

If I wasn’t convicted, but just arrested for a crime, can that still be moral turpitude?

Generally no – you need an actual conviction (or admission to the essential elements of a crime) for the moral turpitude designation to apply. But an arrest alone shouldn’t trigger any moral turpitude consequences.

Are juvenile adjudications considered convictions involving moral turpitude?

No, juvenile delinquency findings are not considered convictions for immigration purposes, so they can’t be deemed CIMTs. However, if you were convicted as an adult for crimes committed under age 18, there is a “youthful offender” exception that may apply.

What if I just take a plea deal for a non-CIMT offense?

If you can negotiate a plea bargain where you’re only convicted of an offense that doesn’t qualify as a CIMT, then you avoid those particular consequences. But it’s critical to have a lawyer carefully review the statute to ensure it truly avoids moral turpitude findings.

My crime was decades ago – does moral turpitude still matter?

Unfortunately, yes – there’s no statute of limitations for determining whether an old conviction involved moral turpitude. The consequences can still apply many years down the road, so it’s important to be aware of your record.Hopefully this helps clarify some of the key issues around moral turpitude! As you can see, it’s a complex area of law with lots of nuances, so having an expert attorney in your corner is invaluable.

Getting Expert Legal Help

If you’re potentially facing moral turpitude determinations and all the negative consequences that could bring, the last thing you want is to go it alone. Trying to navigate this ambiguous area of law without a seasoned professional is a recipe for disaster.That’s why, if you’re dealing with any situation involving potential crimes of moral turpitude – whether it’s an arrest, immigration issue, professional license matter, or anything else – it’s absolutely critical to get an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side right away.At the Spodek Law Group, we have over 50 years of combined experience handling even the toughest, most complex legal situations nationwide and internationally. Our team of top-notch New York criminal defense attorneys is laser-focused on getting the best possible outcomes for our clients, no matter how daunting the circumstances may seem.We understand that facing potential moral turpitude findings can be overwhelming and life-altering. That’s why we take a comprehensive, client-focused approach, treating each case with the individualized attention it deserves. We’ll meticulously review every aspect of your situation, explore all possible defenses, and craft a customized legal strategy to protect your rights and future.Whether it’s challenging the legal basis for a moral turpitude determination, negotiating favorable plea deals, or fighting for post-conviction relief, we have the skills, experience, and tenacity to give you the strongest defense possible. Our reputation for excellence is backed by countless successful results for clients facing the most serious charges and complex legal challenges.

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