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Shoplifting is often a crime of moral turpitude (CIMT). If it is, it can increase the consequences of a conviction. It can impact a non-citizen’s immigration status. In some contexts, however, shoplifting is not serious enough to count as a CIMT. Such petty offenses are exempted from crimes of moral turpitude.
Serious shoplifting cases can affect the collateral consequences of a conviction by:
impacting someone’s immigration status,
causing employment problems,
preventing someone from obtaining a professional license or certificate, and
leading to disciplinary action that can revoke a license.
What is a crime of moral turpitude?
A crime of moral turpitude is a criminal offense that involves either:
Almost all of the crimes of moral turpitude involve intent. Generally, they cannot be committed because of:
an accident, or
something done out of ignorance.
However, petty offenses are exempt. They cannot be crimes of moral turpitude because they are not serious enough.
Notice, though, that these are all elements of a crime. They are not crimes, themselves. When a specific crime has these elements, it can be a crime of moral turpitude.1
Is shoplifting a petty offense?
Shoplifting is the crime of taking merchandise from a store without paying, with intent.2 This makes it a crime that involves:
However, shoplifting may be classified as a petty offense. If it is, it will not be a crime of moral turpitude. The value of the merchandise can matter a lot. If the alleged incident only involved $5, it may be considered a petty offense. If it involved $500, it probably will not be.
Why does the context matter?
Whether a criminal conviction is for a crime of moral turpitude will matter for the collateral consequences of the conviction. These are penalties that are not issued by the court. Instead, they come from:
other government agencies,
potential employers, and even
Each of these parties can define a crime of moral turpitude differently. Shoplifting can be a crime of moral turpitude for one context, but not for another.
Does shoplifting matter for immigration?
Shoplifting is a crime of moral turpitude for immigration purposes.3
U.S. immigration law requires non-citizens to have a “good moral character.” If they do not, they can be:
See, for example, California Business & Professions Code 6101(a).
See, for example, New York Education Law 6524.
See, for example, Texas Financial Code 156.303.
See, for example, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 112, Section 74.
See, for example, Pennsylvania Cosmetology Law 4(a)(1).
About the Author
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.