Under Califonia law, a “crime involving moral turpitude” (or CIMT) is an offense that involves either:
- dishonesty (like fraud), or
- 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).
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:
- 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 Penal Code 187 PC,12
- perjury, per Penal Code 118 PC,13
- possession for sale of controlled substances, per Health and Safety Code 11351 HS,14
- rape, per Penal Code 261 PC,15
- receiving stolen property, per Penal Code 496 PC,16
- robbery, per Penal Code 211 PC,17
- trespass with the intent to injure any property or property rights, or interfere with the conduct of business,18
- voluntary manslaughter, per Penal Code 192 PC19, and
- welfare fraud, per Welfare & Institutions Code 10980 WIC.20
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:
- 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:
- 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,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 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:
- 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.,
Deportation may also occur 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 as a U.S. citizen.32
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
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.
For additional help...
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
See Immigration & Nationality Act ("INA") 237 (a) (2) (A).
California Business & Professions Code 6101a BPC.
Government Code Section 19572k GC.