Grounds for Deportation: Moral Turpitude

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Any alien who has been admitted to the United States can be removed from the country on the grounds of deportability. An alien is any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States. There are numerous grounds for deportation set out in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), including criminal grounds. Crimes involving moral turpitude are among them.

Inadmissible or Deportable?

Aliens who have not been admitted to the United States are subject to removal on grounds of inadmissibility. Aliens who already have been admitted to the United States are subject to removal on grounds of deportability. These different distinctions are set up the INA and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA).

Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

The INA makes removable a noncitizen convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) committed within five years after the date of admission and resulting in a sentence of imprisonment for at least one year, as well as an alien convicted of two CIMTs not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct. For a conviction to lead to removal in the first case, it must be committed within five years of admission and result in the specified criminal sentence. However, for a conviction in the latter case to result in removal, neither the time of commission of the offense nor the sentence imposed is relevant.

An alien convicted of a single misdemeanor classifiable as a petty offense is not removable. This is because the sentence that may be imposed is less than one year.

Whether a crime involves moral turpitude is not defined by the INA and is a question of law. Crimes of moral turpitude usually require a criminal intent or scienter, although intent alone doesn't define the crime. The law under which the conviction happened controls the determination of whether the crime is one involving moral turpitude, as the definitions and sentences imposed for various crimes will vary by state, as well as under federal law.

Offenses Deemed CIMTs

The following offenses have been deemed CIMTs:

  • Crimes against the person:
    - Involving moral turpitude: murder; voluntary or reckless manslaughter, kidnapping, attempted murder and assault with intent to rob or kill or to commit abortion or rape
    - Not involving moral turpitude: involuntary manslaughter; simple assault and battery; attempted suicide and libel
    - Immigration law also considers the following offenses against the person as CIMTs:
    Domestic violence; stalking; child abuse; child neglect; child abandonment and violation of a protection order against credible threats of violence, repeated harassment or bodily injury
  • Sexual offenses:
    - Involving moral turpitude: rape, whether common law or statutory; adultery; bigamy; prostitution; lewdness; sodomy; abortion; gross indecency and possession of child pornography
    - Not involving moral turpitude: bastardy, mailing an obscene letter, fornication, incest and indecent exposure.
  • Crimes against property:
    - Burglary is a CIMT only if the intended offense involves moral turpitude, since unlawful entry and remaining unlawfully on a property by themselves are not CIMTs. Breaking and entering also is not a CIMT. However, breaking and entering to commit larceny is.
    - If the underlying offense is a CIMT, then a conviction for aiding in the commission of the crime or acting as an accessory before the fact is also a CIMT.
    - A theft offense (including receipt of stolen property), which may be both a CIMT and an aggravated felony, includes aiding and abetting the theft offense.
    - Trafficking in counterfeit goods is a CIMT.
  • Crimes against the government:
    - Involving moral turpitude: counterfeiting, perjury, willful tax evasion, bribery, using mails to defraud, misprision of a felony, harboring a fugitive, conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, making false statements to avoid being drafted and draft evasion
    - Not involving moral turpitude: failure to report for induction and desertion
  • Crimes involving fraud:
    - Any crime involving fraud is almost always a crime of moral turpitude, whether against government or individuals, except for false statements not amounting to perjury.
    - Involving moral turpitude: making false statements to obtain a passport or for naturalization, making false statements to obtain a driver's license, making a false statement on a firearm application, passing bad checks, false representation of a Social Security number, money laundering, and conspiracy to affect a public market in securities
    - Not involving moral turpitude: structuring financial transactions in order to avoid currency reports
  • Violations of regulatory laws:
    - Violations of regulatory laws generally are not crimes of moral turpitude. Among other offenses, this category includes gambling and drunk driving.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I've been accused of a crime. What can I do to prevent a conviction? Is this cause for removal?
  • I've been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. Will I be automatically removed from the United States? Is there a chance that I can stay in the United States even though I have a conviction?
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