“Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude” in California Criminal Law


Under Califonia law, a “crime involving moral turpitude” (or CIMT) is an offense that involves either:

  1. dishonesty (like fraud), or
  2. base, vile, or depraved conduct that is shocking to a reasonable person.

A conviction for a crime of moral turpitude can have a negative effect on a person's immigration status if he is not a citizen of the United States.

A CIMT can also:

  • be used to impeach a person's credibility as a witness, and
  • cause a person to lose his professional license (e.g., license to practice law).
judge angry by the involvement of moral turpitude in crime
A judge or jury typically decides whether an offense is a CIMT by looking at the facts of a case.

1. What are examples of crimes involving moral turpitude?

The following are some of the major offenses that courts have said are crimes involving moral turpitude:

Note that a crime involving moral turpitude 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. These crimes do not include offenses that happen because of a:

  • mistake,
  • accident, or
  • bad judgment call.

2. What are some crimes that do not count as a CIMT?

Some examples of offenses that courts have held are not crimes involving moral turpitude are:

3. Does a conviction trigger immigration consequences?

A conviction of a CIMT 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:

  1. is convicted of a CIMT,
  2. receives a jail time of one year or longer for the conviction, and
  3. the conviction occurs within five years of being admitted to the U.S.,

Deportation may also occur if:

  1. an immigrant is convicted of two or more crimes of moral turpitude, and
  2. 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:

  1. gets convicted of a CMIT, or
  2. 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 as a U.S. citizen.32
witness about to be impeached
A conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude can be used to impeach a witness.

4. Can a CIMT be used to impeach a witness?

A conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude can be used to impeach a witness.

In California criminal trials, past convictions for felonies that are crimes of moral turpitude 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 conviction for a moral turpitude crime, particularly one involving dishonesty.

5. Can a crime of moral turpitude 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
  • disbarred.36

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.

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Legal References:

  1. People v. Omledo, (1985) 167 Cal.App.3d 1085.

  2. In re Lesansky, (2001) 25 Cal.4th 11.

  3. People v. Miles, (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 474.

  4. People v. Collins (1986) 42 Cal.3d 378.

  5. People v. Brooks (1992) 3 Cal.App.4th 669.

  6. Latter-Singh v. Holder, (9th Cir. 2012) 668 F.3d 1156.

  7. Grageda v. INS (9th Cir. 1993) 12 F.3d 919.

  8. Matter of Tobar-Lobo (BIA 2007) 24 I & N Dec. 143.

  9. People v. Littrel, (1986) 185 Cal.App.3d 699.

  10. People v. Bautista, (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 1.

  11. People v. Rodriguez (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 174.

  12. People v. Johnson, (1991) 233 Cal.App.3d 425.

  13. People v. Rollo (1977) 20 Cal.3d 109.

  14. People v. Castro (1985) 38 C.3d 301.

  15. People v. Mazza, (1985) 175 Cal.App.3d 836.

  16. People v. Rodriguez (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 174.

  17. People v. Stewart, (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 59.

  18. See Matter of Esfandiary (BIA 1979) 16 I & N Dec. 659.

  19. People v. Partner, (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 178.

  20. Matter of Cortez, (BIA 2010) 25 I & N. Dec. 301.

  21. Fernandez-Ruiz v. Gonzales, (2006) 468 F.3d 1159.

  22. People v. Sanders (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th 1268.

  23. Morales-Garcia v. Holder, (9th Cir. 2009), 567 F.3d 1058.

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

  25. People v. Solis (1986) 172 Cal.App.3d 877.

  26. Castrijon-Garcia v. Holder (9th Cir. 2013) 704 F.3d 1205.

  27. People v. Valdez (1986) 177 Cal.App.3d 680.

  28. People v. Cavazos (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 589.

  29. See Immigration & Nationality Act ("INA") 237 (a) (2) (A).

  30. See same.

  31. INA 212.

  32. INA 245.

  33. People v. Maestas, (2005) 132 Cal.App.4th 1552.

  34. People v. Cadogan (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 1502.

  35. California Business & Professions Code 6101a BPC.

  36. See same.

  37. Government Code Section 19572k GC.

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