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Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

A crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) is a crime that involves deceit, fraud, intent to cause great bodily injury, intent to commit a lewd act, or a crime committed with reckless disregard of another person’s safety. Traditionally, a criminal involving moral turpitude only involved crimes involving deceit or crimes that were considered morally wrong or depraved.

Importance: A criminal conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude can lead to deportation of non-United States citizens or denial of reentry into the United States (for non-citizens), among other immigration consequences. Also, crimes involving moral turpitude are the same types of crimes that can have a major and negative impact on a person’s professional license and on his or her credibility as a witness. Note: CIMT are defined under federal law; however, the same types of crimes that are considered CIMT are usually the same crimes that have negative consequences on a professional or occupational license.

A criminal defense attorney must keep in mind the consequences for non-U.S. citizens and others when defending against any criminal charge, but this is even more important when the defendant is facing a crime involving moral turpitude.

Non-US Citizen: A defendant who is not a citizen of the United States and who faces criminal charges will need to have an attorney who understands what crimes are deportable offenses and how to avoid the harsh consequences of these convictions, if possible. It is not only convictions for crimes involving moral turpitude that must be avoided if possible, but other convictions that can negatively impact a non-citizen should be avoided, such as convictions for aggravated felonies, crimes involving violence, and crimes that involves the sale of drugs or weapons.

Note: Some crimes involving moral turpitude do not necessarily lead to deportation or denial of entry into the United States for non US citizens.

Defense Options: There are many defense options to avoid a criminal conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude. For example, the record of conviction can be left ambiguous as to whether a crime involves an intent element. Also, a criminal charge might be changed as part of a plea deal so that the defendant does not plead guilty or no contest to a crime involving moral turpitude. For some crimes, the criminal charge is divisible, which means that there is more than one way in which the crime may be charged (CIMT or non-CIMT). In such cases, the record of conviction should be clear (not ambiguous) that the conviction was for a crime that did not involve moral turpitude. Other defenses apply to deal with CIMT, but the important point is that these issues should be discussed with a criminal defense attorney before the defendant pleads to any criminal charge. Also, the defendant’s attorney should review all issues that relate to the special consequences for non-US citizens when they are charged with a crime, such as aggravated felonies, crimes of violence, etc.

Immigration Court: In some cases, an immigration judge will be able to inquire as to the facts that lead to a defendant’s arrest, even if that arrest does not lead to a conviction. This is because the act of committing a moral turpitude is what makes the defendant deportable. For example, if the district attorney decides to dismiss a criminal case, the immigration court may continue to use the facts that supported the criminal arrest to bring deportation proceedings against the defendant. In other words, a criminal conviction is very helpful to the immigration court in establishing the facts of a crime involving moral turpitude, but a criminal conviction is not necessary for the immigration court to make a similar finding.

Finally, Immigration Law changes frequently. What is considered a crime involving moral turpitude or an aggravated felony today might not be considered as such next year. This makes it important for a criminal defense attorney to keep up to date with any changes in immigration law as it relates to criminal arrest and convictions. Also, the information in this article is only a brief overview of a very complex set of laws and applications. A person who is arrested or charged with a crime should contact an attorney without delay to learn how that arrest or criminal charge can impact his or her immigration status, professional licensing status, and more.


Common CIMT Crimes (Partial List)

  • Robbery (PC 211)

  • Insurance Fraud (PC 548(a) & 550)

  • Arson (PC 451)

  • Burglary (PC 459 & 460)

  • Embezzlement (PC 503)

  • Extortion (PC 520 & 524)

  • Theft by False Pretenses (PC 532)

  • Forgery (PC 470)

  • Receipt of Stolen Property (PC 496(a))

  • Check Fraud (PC 476)

  • Theft (PC 484 & 488)

  • Perjury (PC 118a & 118(a))

  • Tax Evasion (RT 19705 & 19706)

  • Welfare Fraud (WI 10980)

  • Rape (PC 261, 262, & 264)

  • False Citizenship Docs (PC 114)

  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon (PC 245)

  • Murder (PC 187(a))

  • Mayhem (PC 203 & 205)

  • Lewd Acts on a Minor (PC 288(a))

  • Elder Theft (PC 368(d))

  • Identity Theft (PC 530.5)

  • Torture (PC 206)

  • Human Trafficking (PC 236.1) and more

To learn more about crimes involving moral turpitude, aggravated felonies, immigration law and criminal defense contact our lawyers for a free case analysis. Our legal team includes immigration and criminal defense lawyers that can defend you on multiple fronts and we have a successful track record with handling immigration cases as they relate to criminal charges. Our lawyers are available every day of the week to assist you and we have Spanish speaking lawyers to assist our Spanish speaking clients. Call today!


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