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Burglary is usually a crime involving moral turpitude, but not always. Crimes of moral turpitude generally involve either dishonesty or base, vile, or depraved conduct that would shock a reasonable person. Convictions can lead to immigration consequences or professional discipline. They can also be used to impeach you if you are a witness in a later case.
A crime involving moral turpitude, or CIMT, is generally considered to be criminal conduct that shocks the public conscience as being inherently vile and contrary to the rules of morality.1 However, there is no federal statute that defines a CIMT. Definitions come from state and federal court cases and administrative court rulings, usually regarding immigration cases. As a result, the precise definition can vary by state and context.2
Generally, though, to commit a crime of moral turpitude you must do 2 things:
However, at least for immigration purposes, judges can consider other facts of the case to decide whether the offense was a CIMT.4 This has led many courts and law enforcement agencies to differentiate between:
For example: Under the categorical approach, indecent exposure is not a crime involving moral turpitude.6 However, a criminal conviction for indecent exposure involving a defendant with a history of lewd acts with children was determined to be a CIMT.7
According to the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual, the following offenses generally have an inherent element of moral turpitude:
The following offenses, however, generally do not have an element of moral turpitude:
This creates some ambiguity as to whether burglary is a crime involving moral turpitude.
Burglary is the crime of unlawful entry into a building or locked vehicle with the intent of committing a theft crime or a felony once inside.10 The completion of the theft or felony is not required; it is a burglary as soon as you enter the vehicle or building.11 However, that is also the point at which you must have an intent to commit a theft or felony. If you did not have the intent at this time, like if you only formed it after entering, it is not a burglary.12
Burglary can be a crime of moral turpitude. In some states, a big factor is whether the crime to be committed once inside is a CIMT.
Some jurisdictions, like California,13 have decided that burglary is inherently a CIMT. In these jurisdictions, it does not matter what offense you intended to commit once inside. The burglary itself is enough to show moral turpitude.
However, not all states and law enforcement agencies interpret the law this way.
The Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual, for example, states that burglary is generally a CIMT.14 However, breaking and entering with an intent to commit an offense that is not a CIMT is not.15
Generally, the lists of crimes of moral turpitude will be the same across different jurisdictions. However, different state laws define criminal offenses slightly differently. Certain offenses will be a CIMT in one state but not in another. This can make a multi-jurisdiction list inaccurate.
However, in California, the following offenses have also been found to be crimes involving moral turpitude by state courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, or the federal Ninth Circuit:
It is important to note that these offenses nearly always require a specific intent to commit them.35 Many of them are aggravated felonies or crimes of violence.
There are often 3 types of additional penalties that come with a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude:
A burglary conviction that was determined to be a CIMT can subject you to these penalties in addition to the fines and prison time imposed by criminal law.
A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude can make a non-citizen:
Non-citizens can be deported from the United States if they are convicted for a CIMT and:
Non-citizens can be found inadmissible to the United States if they:
This inadmissibility or deportability makes it crucial for defendants with a non-citizen immigration status, like permanent residents or green card holders, to get a criminal defense attorney from a reputable law office that handles immigration law cases.
A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude can also cause professional consequences. You can:
In California, for example, state employees can face discipline, up to and including termination, for committing a CIMT.39 Attorneys in California, meanwhile, can be disbarred or have their license to practice suspended.40
In some cases, these repercussions are the most threatening part of the criminal charges.
A prior conviction for a CIMT, even if it was just a misdemeanor, can generally be used to impeach you if you testify as a witness in a later case.41 The evidence of your prior CIMT conviction can be revealed in the trial. It gives jurors a reason to distrust your testimony.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.