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What is Moral Turpitude?

Dena Standley | April 11, 2024

Dena Standley
Legal Expert, Paralegal
Dena Standley, BA

Dena Standley is a seasoned paralegal with more than 20 years of experience in legal research and writing, having received a certification as a Legal Assistant/Paralegal from Southern Technical College.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Fact-checked by George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons
Co-Founder of SoloSuit
George Simons, JD/MBA

George Simons is the co-founder and CEO of SoloSuit. He has helped Americans protect over $1 billion from predatory debt lawsuits. George graduated from BYU Law school in 2020 with a JD/MBA. In his spare time, George likes to cook, because he likes to eat.

Summary: Moral turpitude is a legal term used to describe a crime that exhibits shocking behavior that is immoral, unethical, or unjust. If you have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, your life will be significantly affected. You can try to take advantage of post-conviction relief, request a charge reduction, or file a motion to dismiss to lighten the gravity of your sentence.

In the complex legal world, few terms carry as much weight as "moral turpitude", a concept that goes beyond legal boundaries into the realm of ethics and morality. Did you know that in the United States, a significant number of deportation cases hinge on the interpretation of this very term?

Below, we dive deep into the intricate and often controversial nature of crimes involving moral turpitude, exploring how a single conviction can drastically alter one's life. From seeking post-conviction relief to understanding the weight of these charges, we navigate the murky waters of legal consequences and societal judgments. Join us as we unravel the complexities of moral turpitude, backed by real case examples and legal expertise.

What does moral turpitude mean?

American courts broadly define moral turpitude as behavior that shocks the public's conscience. They deem it an act of base, vile, or depraved behavior that contravenes morality and rights owed to fellow men.

A crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) depends mainly on whether there is any willful conduct involved in the offense. Moreover, it's a morally reprehensible and intrinsic offense characterized by recklessness, evil, or malice. But, one must prove that the perpetrator knew before committing the act that it was distasteful.

The consequences of a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude can affect your career, reputation, and immigration status for non-citizens. Because as long as it is appropriate, CIMT can apply to any crime. Find out what types of crimes are considered CIMTs and how to respond to a CIMT.

How are moral turpitude crimes exhibited?

Remember, this is a partial list of crimes associated with moral turpitude. Judges or juries will frequently consider the state of mind at the time of the crime if there is confusion over whether to use the "crime of moral turpitude" term. Examples include:

  • Murder PC 187
  • Perjury PC 118
  • Assault with intent to cause bodily harm
  • Assault with the intent to murder
  • An attempt to commit lewd acts on a minor Penal Code 288 PC,2
  • Armed felon Penal Code 29800 PC
  • Hit-and-run crime
  • Auto grand theft
  • Arson
  • Child abuse
  • Criminal threats
  • Burglary
  • Domestic violence against a spouse
  • Unregistered sex offenders
  • Possessing and selling controlled substances
  • Rape
  • Welfare fraud
  • Receiving and possessing stolen property
  • Robbery
  • A trespass intended to damage property or interfere with a business
  • Voluntary manslaughter

Let’s look at a moral turpitude example.

Example: Kim was receiving welfare assistance for herself and her two children while she went to college to help build a better life for them. However, she met a man who made a substantial income. Kim and her children eventually moved in with him, and he provided for their financial needs. However, Kim chose not to report her change in circumstances and continued receiving her welfare benefits. Meanwhile, one of the children went to live with their paternal grandmother, and Kim kept the welfare benefits intended for that child's basic needs. She is charged with welfare fraud and moral turpitude. While what she did was wrong, Kim saved the money she received in benefits for herself and her children to avoid being in another vulnerable position. Once the criminal investigation was complete and charges were filed, the judge decided to drop the “crime of moral turpitude” though the criminal charges remained. Why? Because Kim saving the money in an attempt to avoid vulnerability for herself and her children showed that, though she had committed a crime, it did not rise to the level of moral turpitude.

How does a conviction for moral turpitude affect your life?

Moral turpitude reflects on your integrity and truthfulness, and conviction for such an offense can have severe consequences for your:


If your work requires a professional license, a conviction for moral turpitude could jeopardize it. In most cases, moral turpitude crimes result in license suspension or revocation by professional boards. In Kentucky, for example, such convictions result in the immediate termination of employees.

Witness credibility

You will have your credibility questioned by the opposing attorney if you are ever called as a witness in a court case.

Immigration status

It can be challenging to acquire immigration status following a crime of moral turpitude. Besides, crimes of moral turpitude can be grounds for deportation under the Immigration Act of 1917. Consequently, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 restricts entry into the country if convicted of such crimes.

But a host of factors determine whether a person is deported or denied admission, including:

  • Whether multiple charges of moral turpitude are filed
  • A crime must have been committed within five years of entry into the country
  • If jail time is imposed upon conviction
  • Whether the offense occurred before or after entry into the US

The tricky part about moral turpitude is that it is not a crime but a category to label it. Therefore, any crime can be considered moral turpitude by the Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.).

How do you respond to a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT)?

Since moral turpitude crimes are determined on a case-by-case basis, speaking with a lawyer early on can help you. Depending on the circumstances, a lawyer can assist you in determining if the conviction is an act of moral turpitude. In criminal defense cases, you have a right to an attorney paid for by the state, and one will be assigned to you.

Take advantage of post-conviction relief

There are several post-conviction reliefs; re-sentencing or a change of status according to the severity of the crime. Moreover, ineffective counsel may qualify you for post-conviction relief in some cases. Despite conviction charges and immigration consequences, you may be able to receive some legal relief as well.

Requests for charge reductions

The state cannot dismiss your charges if it presents supporting evidence against you. But one option is to request a reduction in criminal charges. The criminal charges from the crime may still apply, but you won't face the severe consequences of a moral turpitude definition.

File a motion for dismissal

Only a criminal conviction involving moral turpitude could compromise your immigration status, professional credibility, and social standing. It can only occur if you are found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that if there is doubt in your case, you can counter the allegations with a strong defense.

For example, the evidence against you may be illegal, or there may be a weak argument against you. You can file a motion for dismissal if this is the case. No case means no conviction and no moral turpitude crime classification.

What is the meaning of moral turpitude?

Moral turpitude, as defined by the Supreme Court, is a legal concept in the United States that refers to conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals. The Supreme Court of the United States, however, has not provided a singular, definitive definition of moral turpitude.

Instead, the concept has been interpreted and applied variably across different legal contexts, particularly in immigration law and in determining the fitness of individuals for certain professions or activities.

In immigration law, moral turpitude is often a basis for determining inadmissibility or deportability. Crimes involving moral turpitude can lead to an immigrant being barred from entering the U.S. or deported. The determination of what constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude is complex and depends on the specific state or federal law that defines the crime, the nature of the offense, and the facts and circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime.

Examples of crimes that have often been classified as involving moral turpitude include:

  • Fraud and Deceit: Offenses that involve intentional deception for personal gain.
  • Larceny: The unlawful taking of someone else’s property with the intent to permanently deprive them of it.
  • Intent to Harm Persons or Things: Crimes that involve an intent to cause substantial harm, like murder, assault, arson, and domestic violence.
  • Sexual Offenses: Certain offenses like rape, child abuse, and prostitution are often considered crimes of moral turpitude.

Now, let’s look at some real case examples of moral turpitude:

  • Matter of Danesh, in which the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that the crime of attempted petty theft was a crime involving moral turpitude.
  • Matter of Silva-Trevino, which established a framework for determining whether a crime involves moral turpitude, taking into account the nature of the crime and the individual's actual conduct.
  • Matter of K-, in which the BIA held that perjury, or deliberately lying under oath, constituted a crime involving moral turpitude.
  • Matter of Tobar-Lobo, which concluded that bribery is a crime involving moral turpitude.

These are just a few examples that demonstrate the complex nature of how moral turpitude is determined and its significant impact on immigration proceedings. However, it's important to note that the application of moral turpitude can vary case by case, and it is subject to ongoing legal interpretation and debate.

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