Is DUI a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Mar 17, 2020 | 0 Comments

dui driver speeding
The presence of certain aggravating factors will turn a DUI into a crime of moral turpitude.

A DUI can be a crime of moral turpitude (CIMT) if there were aggravating factors. It can also be a CIMT if drugs were involved. If it is a CIMT and the offender is not a U.S. citizen, that person's immigration status can be affected. He or she could be deported.

Crimes of moral turpitude also come with collateral consequences for U.S. citizens. They include:

  • employment repercussions, and
  • revocation of your professional license or making you ineligible for one.

What are crimes of moral turpitude?

A crime of moral turpitude is a type of criminal offense. It involves:

  • dishonesty or fraud, or
  • immoral conduct.1

Generally, these offenses are intentional. They cannot be committed:

  • accidentally,
  • by mistake, or
  • without understanding what was going on.

When a criminal offense has these elements, it can be a crime of moral turpitude.2 This means that some crimes will always be crimes of moral turpitude. Others, however, may or may not be, depending on what happened.

Is DUI one of these crimes?

Driving under the influence (DUI) can be a crime of moral turpitude. Most DUIs involving alcohol are not, though. If there were drugs involved, or if there were aggravating factors, it can be treated as a crime of moral turpitude.

A simple DUI is not a crime of moral turpitude.3 These DUIs have no intentional conduct and are not crimes of violence. Most DUIs are simple DUIs. It is a simple DUI even if:

  • you had a high level of blood alcohol content (BAC),
  • you caused a car accident, or
  • you were driving with excessive speed.

The presence of certain aggravating factors will turn a DUI into a crime of moral turpitude. They include:

  • driving on a suspended license,4
  • reckless endangerment of a child in the car,5 and
  • DUI murder, or “Watson murders.”

Some of these factors make the offense a violent crime. Others require intentional or knowing conduct.

It is unclear whether an injury or fatality turns a simple DUI into a crime of moral turpitude. Courts have come to conflicting conclusions.6

Multiple prior convictions for misdemeanor DUI will not lead to a crime of moral turpitude. However, enough convictions can make a non-citizen a “habitual drunkard.” This can prevent him or her from showing they have a “good moral character.” This can have immigration implications.7 It can make them inadmissible for entry into the U.S.

Drugged driving cases are usually crimes of moral turpitude. In the immigration context, the conviction has to involve a drug on the federal list of controlled substances. The federal list can be different from the list used by the state. However, most drugged driving cases involve substances that are on the federal list, like:

  • marijuana,
  • heroin,
  • cocaine, and
  • methamphetamine.

Example: California prohibits driving under the influence of any drug that impairs your ability to drive.8 Kyle gets convicted for drugged driving. He was drowsy because he had taken Benadryl. This drug is not on the federal list of controlled substances.

What are the immigration penalties?

There can be immigration consequences of a DUI conviction. If it is a crime of moral turpitude, it can prevent a non-citizen from showing that they have a “good moral character.” This can make a non-citizen:

  • deportable,9 or
  • inadmissible.10

If the DUI was a crime of moral turpitude, non-citizens can be deported if:

  • their jail sentence is at least one year, and
  • they were convicted within five years of being admitted to the U.S.11

They can also be deported if:

  • they are convicted for a different crime of moral turpitude, and
  • that conviction is distinct from the DUI.12

What about employment implications?

Employers may consider a DUI to be a crime of moral turpitude.

Many companies use employment contracts that require workers to keep a good moral character. A crime of moral turpitude can break this part of the contract. This can lead to workers being fired for a DUI.

For example, California state employees can be disciplined for committing a crime of moral turpitude.13

Can I lose a license or certification?

Crimes of moral turpitude can make you ineligible for a professional license. Convictions can also lead to a license being revoked.

Many licensing boards demand that people who are certified keep a good moral character. Examples of these licenses and certifications include:

  • nursing certifications,14
  • licenses to practice law15 or medicine,16
  • mortgage broker licenses,17 and
  • cosmetology licenses.18

A conviction for a crime of moral turpitude can make you ineligible to receive one of these licenses. If you already have one, the conviction can lead to:

  • a period of probation,
  • a temporary suspension,
  • revocation, or
  • a lifetime ban from the profession.

Each certifying agency will have its own rules. Some may treat DUIs as grounds for revocation. Others may take no action at all.

Legal References:

  1. Carty v. Ashcroft, 395 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2005).

  2. See Almanza-Arenas v. Lynch, 815 F.3d 469 (9th Cir. 2016).

  3. In re Abreau-Semino, 12 I&N Dec. 775 (BIA 1968).

  4. In re Lopez-Meza, 22 I&N Dec. 1188 (BIA 1999).

  5. Hernandez-Perez v. Holder, 569 F.3d 345 (8th Cir. 2009).

  6. Compare In re Franklin, 20 I&N 867 (BIA 1994) (criminal recklessness suffices for a CIMT) with Abreau-Semino, supra (“crimes in which evil intent is not an element, no matter how serious the act or harmful the consequences, do not involve moral turpitude”).

  7. 8 USC 1101(f)(1).

  8. California Vehicle Code 312 VC.

  9. 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2).

  10. 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(2)(A)(i).

  11. 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(i).

  12. 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii).

  13. California Government Code Section 19572(k).

  14. See e.g., Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 112, Section 74.

  15. See e.g., California Business & Professions Code 6101(a).

  16. See e.g., New York Education Law 6524.

  17. See e.g., Texas Financial Code 156.303.

  18. See e.g., Pennsylvania Cosmetology Law 4(a)(1).

About the Author

Neil Shouse

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, Court TV, 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.


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