Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude: Meaning and Examples

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude: Meaning and Examples

If you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, your life will be severely impacted—it can negatively alter your immigration status, professional reputation, and social credibility. If you are accused of a crime of moral turpitude, it is of the utmost importance that you fully understand what you are being accused of.

What Is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude?

A crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) is a criminal or offensive act that can be defined as vile and/or insulting to one’s moral compass.  A crime of moral turpitude is a crime that disrespects and antagonizes societal norms.

Typically, crimes involving moral turpitude are done with vicious, evil intent. They contradict rules upheld by polite society to the point where the crime itself is seen as shocking and disgusting.

That being said, the definition can sometimes be ambiguous. Therefore, if you are going through the immigration process or you are a non-citizen or immigrant, it is important to understand the parameters of what moral turpitude actually entails. Familiarizing yourself with moral turpitude is particularly important if you have had any arrests or convictions.

What Is the Legal Meaning of Moral Turpitude?

Under U.S. Codes I.N.A. § 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) and I.N.A. § 237(a)(2)(A)(i), just having a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude on your record can be used to dispute your visa or green card application. You may also be deported from the United States and have your visa or green card revoked.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) sets the definition for moral turpitude. As described above, a moral crime can be one that:

  • Shocks public conscience
  • Is inherently depraved and vile
  • Acts against rules about one’s neighbors or society
  • Is conducted with evil intent
  • Is the result of reckless behavior
  • Is morally reprehensible
  • Is intentionally wrong

The trickiest part about a crime involving moral turpitude is that this is a category to label a crime and does not define the crime itself. This means that the designation of a crime of moral turpitude can be assigned to any crime that the BIA decides it should be.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude According to USCIS

When looking at another reference for crimes of moral turpitude, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) describes a moral crime as one that is a “conviction or admission of one or more CIMTs (other than political offense), except for one petty offense.”

If you are interested in looking at the direct U.S. codes that USCIS follows, its citations for crimes of moral turpitude include INA 101(f)(3) and 8 CFR 316.10(b)(2)(i), (iv). Although there is no clearly stated crime, as referred to above, USCIS does state:

“Whether an offense is a CIMT is largely based on whether the offense involves willful conduct that is morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong, the essence of which is a reckless, evil or malicious intent.”

When it comes to crimes of moral turpitude, USCIS also points out there is a difference in definitions between states. A local/state law enforcement officer may seek counsel from USCIS when deciding whether or not a crime is one that involves moral turpitude.

Moral Turpitude Examples

There are some obvious and specific crimes that the United States deems to be crimes involving moral turpitude. These offenses include:

  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter (in some cases)
  • Domestic violence
  • Spousal abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Kidnapping
  • Paternity fraud
  • Rape
  • Incest
  • Failure to register as a sex offender
  • Aggravated assault
  • Drug-related crimes
  • Animal cruelty
  • Animal fighting
  • Robbery
  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Mayhem
  • Felony hit and run
  • Conspiracy
  • Accessory to a crime of moral turpitude
  • Criminal threats
  • Arson
  • Prostitution
  • Perjury
  • Driving while intoxicated without a license

Since a crime of moral turpitude is a generalized definition of a type of crime—not one specific offense itself—definitions of a specific crime will be more complex comes the time of accusation and defense. Crimes are classified as involving moral turpitude on a case-by-case basis. Just because one crime similar to yours was not classified as a crime of moral turpitude does not mean that your case will be reviewed and classified in the same way. The intent is an important factor in these types of cases.

Criminal convictions are also most often handled on the state level, meaning that, unless you are involved in a federal crime, the definitions and repercussions of moral turpitude crimes may change from state to state. Legal language plays a significant role in creating a defense against a crime involving moral turpitude. Speak with your immigration lawyer about your state’s legal statutes that apply to your offense.

Crimes That Are Not Moral Turpitude

A crime may not be considered one of moral turpitude depending on how the court views it. In short, a crime of moral turpitude is up to the courts to decide. That being said, different courts in a different state may differ on their legal definition of the same crime, so working with an immigration attorney to review your case is a crucial place to start after a conviction.

It’s important to mention that assault is usually only considered a crime involving moral turpitude if it was done:

  • With intent to inflict harm
  • To a protected class of people

If you are concerned about a crime you have committed, speak with your immigration attorney. They can review the moral turpitude meaning for your specific circumstances and make a case accordingly.

Consequences of Committing a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude

When you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, your life can be seriously impacted. Not only can you face criminal charges and repercussions, but your day-to-day life will also be affected, including changes to your immigration status. In addition to the crime resulting in immigration consequences, your professional life and social credibility are likely to also be impacted. Let’s take a more in-depth look at consequences that may occur after someone has been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.

How a Crime of Moral Turpitude Affects Immigration

If you are planning to move forward through the process of naturalization, being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude puts your immigration status in jeopardy. To be considered to become a U.S. citizen, a person must be seen to have “good moral character,” an attribute that is negated by such crimes. Not only will you be classified as being a felon convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, but your immigration status may also be classified as inadmissible and/or deportable.

Being considered as inadmissible denies you any entry into the United States and prohibits you from attaining a non-immigrant visa, an immigrant visa, or starting your path to citizenship.

Being deportable means that immigration authorities can begin removal proceedings, meaning you may be forcibly removed. No matter what your immigration status may be, you might be asked to leave.

If on two separate occasions, you are convicted of at least two crimes—or more—that are classified as moral turpitude, you may be considered deportable. You may also need to be in removal proceedings if you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude within five years of your visa.

If your crime is for a petty offense, then you may still be considered admissible in the court of law. There is a chance that a crime will not be considered moral turpitude if the crime:

  • Involves a sentence that lasts less than six months
  • Is punishable for less than one year
  • Is a single offense (your only offense)

The “petty offense exception” will most likely result in your not being deported or considered inadmissible. However, this defense ultimately relies on the severity of the crime.

Your immigration status and future can have negative consequences for both you and your family.

Employment and Professionalism

If you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, you may have professional licenses revoked. This is applicable if your profession requires any licensing. These can include:

  • Doctors
  • Attorneys
  • Educators

These are just some of many examples. It is up to professional boards to either suspend or revoke licenses upon the conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude. Losing your professional license completely alters your career and the credibility you hold in your professional field.

Social Credibility

If you are convicted of a crime that involves moral turpitude, you will not be able to testify as a witness in legal proceedings without scrutiny. Your effectiveness as a witness will ultimately lose credibility. The opposing legal team is allowed to use your conviction in the case, weakening anything you say in court.

What to Do If You’ve Been Charged With a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude?

If you have been charged with a crime, it’s crucial that you speak with your immigration attorney right away. Since crimes of moral turpitude are determined on a case-to-case basis, talking to a lawyer right away can help you throughout all proceedings. Your immigration attorney can help to determine if the conviction could be considered a crime involving moral turpitude. If so, your attorney can begin to build your defense.

Depending on the conditions of your conviction and case, there may be a few routes to take when you have been arrested for a crime involving moral turpitude.

Requests to Reduce Charges

When the state presents supporting evidence against you, your charges are unable to be dismissed. If you are guaranteed criminal charges, one option is to request the court to reduce the criminal charges. You may still face the criminal charges resulting from the crime committed but may not face the severe consequences that come with the moral turpitude designation.

Post-Conviction Relief

Post-conviction relief can involve requesting a re-sentencing or a change of status on the crime’s severity. In some cases, you may be able to have post-conviction relief if you had ineffective counsel. You may still face conviction charges and consequences regarding your immigration status, but you may also receive some legal relief.

Bringing a Strong Defense

The only reason why your immigration status, professional credibility, and social standing would be compromised is if you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. This can only happen if you are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning if there is doubt in your case, there is the potential that a strong defense will counter the accusation.


You may be in a situation where you are accused of a crime that involves illegal evidence or a weak argument against you. If this is the case, your immigration attorney can file a motion to dismiss the charges. If there is no case, there is no conviction, and therefore no classification of committing a crime that involves moral turpitude.

Contact a CIMT Immigration Attorney Today

The experienced immigration attorneys at Scott D. Pollock & Associates P.C. are here to help you. If you are facing criminal charges for a crime that falls under the category of a crime involving moral turpitude, then your immigration status and opportunities are at risk.

The attorneys at our Chicago law firm have over 70 years of combined experience. We can review your case and look at all of your options. Contact us today at 231.444.1940 or fill out our online contact form. We look forward to hearing from you.

We're looking forward to hearing from you!