What is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude?
Crimes involving moral turpitude can have very serious consequences for someone seeking to obtain or trying to keep a U.S. visa or green card. Conviction of a crime of moral turpitude can make you inadmissible and block your application for a visa or green card. Further, even if you have already obtained a U.S. visa or green card, it can cause you be removed or deported from the U.S.
Defining a crime of Moral Turpitude
Even though it is an important concept in immigration law, it has not been clearly defined by statute or rule. Instead, the definition for a crime of moral turpitude has developed through case law and has become a legal term of art. Typically courts have considered a crime of moral turpitude to refer to conduct or an act that is immoral and wrong in nature, or is contrary to the community standards for justice and good morals. When determining if a crime involves an element of moral turpitude, it typically depends on whether you intended to commit the crime or were acting recklessly when the crime was committed. It often also depends on the nature of the crime and if the crime is considered to be bad only because the law says so, or if the crime is inherently bad and is incompatible with the rules of morality.
Although moral turpitude has not been specifically defined by statute, the U.S. Department of State has indicated that the most common elements of a crime involving moral turpitude are (1) fraud; (2) larceny; and (3) intent to harm a person or property. Further, crimes involving moral turpitude have further been grouped into three categories: (1) crimes against property; (2) crimes against governmental authority; and (3) crimes against persons. These categories refer to some of the more common crimes that have typically involved an element of moral turpitude.
However, this is only a brief overview of the various types of crimes that the courts have found to be crimes of moral turpitude, and it is important to remember that there is no clear definition or outline of what a crime involving moral turpitude is.
Crimes Committed Against Property
Crimes that fall into this category that involve moral turpitude usually involve an element of fraud. Fraud typically refers to or involves:
- Making a false representation;
- Knowledge that representation you are making is false;
- That the person who was defrauded relied on the false representation; and
- That you intended to commit the act of fraud.
Other crimes that are committed against property that involve moral turpitude typically involve some act of evil intent. This list includes crimes that are committed against property that can be determined as involving an element of moral turpitude:
- Destruction of property with a malicious intent;
- False pretenses;
- Transporting known stolen property (when you are aware that it is stolen property);
Crimes against property which do not typically constitute moral turpitude include:
- Damaging private property;
- Breaking and entering;
- Possessing stolen property;
- Juvenile delinquency;
Crimes Committed Against Governmental Authority
Crimes committed against government authority usually involve an aspect of moral turpitude include:
- Fraud committed against a government agency or function;
- Mail fraud;
- Harboring a fugitive;
- Tax evasion;
Crimes committed against governmental authority which have not involved an element of moral turpitude are regulatory in nature and do not include an element of intent or fraud, such as:
- Breach of the peace;
- Carrying a concealed weapon;
- Desertion from the military;
- Disorderly conduct;
- Drunk or reckless driving;
- Escape from prison;
- Firearms violations;
- Gambling violations;
- Liquor violations;
- Tax evasion (without the intent to commit fraud);
Crimes Committed Against Person, Family Relationship, and Sexual Morality
Crimes committed against persons which usually constitute moral turpitude include:
- Abandonment of a minor child;
- Assault with the intent to kill;
- Assault with the intent to commit rape;
- Assault with the intent to commit robbery;
- Assault with the intent to inflict serious bodily harm;
- Assault with a deadly or dangerous weapon;
If you have been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude or have admitted to committing one, you can be found to be ineligible and inadmissible when applying for your U.S. visa or green card. Also, attempting to commit a crime of moral turpitude, helping someone else in committing a crime of moral turpitude, or being a part of a conspiracy to commit a crime of moral turpitude can also cause you to be deemed inadmissible or deported.
Even if you have been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, there are certain exceptions that would allow for you to still be considered admissible to obtain a U.S. visa or green card. The consequences for committing such a crime do not apply if the crime was committed when you were under 18 years old or if the crime was committed more than five years before you submitted your visa application for admission into the United States. Also, if the maximum penalty for the crime involved jail time for no more than one year, and you were only sentenced to imprisonment for no more than 6 months, then you can still qualify for a U.S. visa despite your prior convictions.