The term “crimes involving moral turpitude” refers to a category of crimes involving either (1) dishonesty or (2) base, vile, or depraved conduct that is shocking to a reasonable person. The standard is typically used to determine whether a criminal conviction will have negative immigration consequences, whether it can be used to impeach the credibility of a witness, and whether it can be used to impose professional discipline (such as revoking one’s nursing license).
1. What are some examples of crimes involving moral turpitude?
There is no set statutory definition under criminal law. According to case law, the following are some of the major offenses that are crimes involving moral turpitude:
- aggravated assault, including assault likely to produce bodily harm,
- assault with intent to commit murder,1
- attempted lewd acts on a minor, per Penal Code 288 PC,2
- arson, per Penal Code 451 PC,3
- burglary, per Penal Code 459 PC,4
- child abuse, per Penal Code 273d PC, 5
- criminal threats, per Penal Code 422 PC,6
- domestic violence when committed against a person’s spouse,7
- failure to register as a sex offender, per Penal Code 290 PC,8
- felon in possession of a firearm, per Penal Code 29800 PC,9
- felony hit and run, per Vehicle Code 20001VC,10
- grand theft auto, per Penal Code 487 PC,11
- murder, per PC 187,12
- perjury, per PC 118,13
- possession for sale of controlled substances, per Health and Safety Code 11351 HS,14
- rape, per PC 261,15
- receiving stolen property, per PC 496,16
- robbery, per PC 211,17
- trespass with the intent to injure any property or property rights, or interfere with the conduct of business,18
- voluntary manslaughter, per PC 19219, and
- welfare fraud, per Welfare & Institutions Code 10980 WIC.20
Note that a CIMT is almost always an intent crime. This means that the elements of the crime must include some form of criminal intent (e.g., willfulness or the intent to defraud).21
Also note that a CIMT is an offense that is morally reprehensible and goes against rules of morality. These crimes often involve vileness, baseness, evil intent, and lack of good morals and good moral character towards one’s fellow man and society. Most aggravated felonies count as CIMTs. In short, the definition of moral turpitude is shocking the public conscience. These crimes do not include offenses that happen because of a:
- accident, or
- bad judgment call.
2. What are some crimes that do not count as a CIMT?
Some examples of offenses that courts have found not to be CIMTs are:
- child endangerment, under Penal Code 273a PC,22
- domestic violence committed on someone other than a spouse,23
- most single first offenses of California DUI (driving under the influence),24
- involuntary manslaughter, under Penal Code 192b PC,25
- kidnapping without any aggravating factors, under Penal Code 207 PC,26
- possession of marijuana, under Health and Safety Code 11357 HS,27 and
- simple assault without any aggravating factors, under Penal Code 240 PC.28
3. Does a conviction trigger immigration consequences?
A conviction of a crime with moral turpitude will have negative immigration consequences.
United States immigration law says that certain kinds of criminal convictions can lead to:
A category of “deportable” or “inadmissible” crimes includes “crimes of moral turpitude.”29
A non-citizen can be deported because of a CIMT if he:
- is convicted of a CIMT,
- receives a jail time of one year or longer for the conviction, and
- the conviction occurs within five years of being admitted to the U.S.,
An alien is also vulnerable to deportability if:
- an immigrant is convicted of two or more crimes of moral turpitude, and
- the crimes arise out of different criminal schemes.30
Example: Elena is a green hard holder from Mexico. She has been living in the U.S. for ten years. She then gets convicted of possession of drugs for sale, which is a CIMT.
Here, Elena is not deportable. She only has one conviction of a CIMT, and it occurred more than five years after she entered the U.S.
But, if a few years later Elena is convicted of felony hit and run (which is also a crime of moral turpitude) she may be deported. This is because she received two CIMT convictions and they arose out of different schemes.
A non-citizen will be found inadmissible if he:
- gets convicted of a CMIT, or
- admits to all the elements of a crime of moral turpitude.31
If a person is inadmissible, he is not able to:
- apply for permanent resident status (i.e., a green card),
- apply for adjustment of status,
- re-enter the US. after leaving, or
- naturalize for U.S. citizenship.32
There is a petty offense exception to CIMTs. Just one offense with a maximum term of one year probably will not result in admissibility or deportability.
4. Can a CIMT be used to impeach a witness?
A conviction of a CIMT can be used to impeach a witness.
In California criminal trials, past convictions for felonies that are CIMTs can always be admitted to impeach a witness.33
Further, criminal conduct that constitutes a CIMT can also be admitted to impeach a witness. This is even if the witness was only convicted of a misdemeanor for it.34
To “impeach” a witness means to present evidence that questions the witness’s credibility.
Jurors in a California criminal jury trial may:
- distrust a witness’s testimony,
- if he has a past CIMT conviction, particularly one involving dishonesty.
5. Can CIMTs have negative consequences on professional licenses?
A CIMT can have negative consequences on a person’s career and/or professional license. This includes a license to practice medicine or the law.
A crime involving moral turpitude can result in:
- the loss of employment, or
- the loss of a professional license.
For example, a lawyer in California may face discipline from the state bar if convicted of a CIMT.35
This means the attorney could be either:
- suspended from the practice of law, or
Also note that California state employees may face discipline if they are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.37 They may also face:
- suspension from employment, or
- loss of employment.
- People v. Omledo, (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 1085.
- In re Lesansky, (California Supreme Court, 2001) 25 Cal.4th 11 (with or without a deadly weapon).
- People v. Miles, (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 474.
- People v. Collins (1986) 42 Cal.3d 378.
- People v. Brooks (1992) 3 Cal.App.4th 669.
- Latter-Singh v. Holder, (9th Cir. 2012) 668 F.3d 1156.
- Grageda v. INS (9th Cir. 1993) 12 F.3d 919.
- Matter of Tobar-Lobo (Board of Immigration Appeals 2007) 24 I & N Dec. 143.
- People v. Littrel, (1986) 185 Cal.App.3d 699.
- People v. Bautista, (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 1.
- People v. Rodriguez (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 174.
- People v. Johnson, (1991) 233 Cal.App.3d 425, with premeditation or by acting with extreme recklessness.
- People v. Rollo (1977) 20 Cal.3d 109.
- People v. Castro (1985) 38 C.3d 301.
- People v. Mazza, (1985) 175 Cal.App.3d 836.
- People v. Rodriguez (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 174.
- People v. Stewart, (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 59.
- See Matter of Esfandiary (BIA 1979) 16 I & N Dec. 659.
- People v. Partner, (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 178.
- Matter of Cortez, (BIA 2010) 25 I & N. Dec. 301.
- Fernandez-Ruiz v. Gonzales, (2006) 468 F.3d 1159.
- People v. Sanders (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th 1268.
- Morales-Garcia v. Holder, (Ninth Circuit 2009), 567 F.3d 1058.
- Hernandez-Perez v. Holder, (8th Cir. 2009) 569 F.3d 345.
- People v. Solis (1986) 172 Cal.App.3d 877.
- Castrijon-Garcia v. Holder (9th Cir. 2013) 704 F.3d 1205.
- People v. Valdez (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 680.
- People v. Cavazos (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 589.
- See Immigration & Nationality Act (“INA”) 237 (a) (2) (A); 8 U.S.C. 1227.
- See same.
- Immigration and Nationality Act 212 – inadmissibility.
- INA 245.
- People v. Maestas, (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 1552.
- People v. Cadogan (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 1502.
- California Business & Professions Code 6101a BPC.
- See same.
- Government Code Section 19572k.