What is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude?

There is no concrete definition of a ‘crime involving moral turpitude’ (CIMT). Instead, most of what we understand about CIMTs comes from case law. In Silva-Trevino, one of the pivotal cases on crimes involving moral turpitude, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) characterized ‘moral turpitude’ as conduct that is “inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general.” Matter of Silva-Trevino, 26 I&N Dec. 826 (BIA 2016).

Generally speaking, crimes with an element of violence, deceit, or fraud, are likely to be characterized as CIMTs.

Certain crimes are generally accepted to be CIMTs, including the following:

  • Murder;
  • Domestic Violence;
  • Theft;
  • Fraud;
  • Certain DUIs (see an attorney);
  • Battery that involves injury; and
  • Sexual assaults;

Whether a conviction will be characterized as a CIMT largely depends on the elements of the underlying state criminal statute. A conviction for simple battery in one state may be a CIMT, whereas, in the next state, it may not. Or, if a statute has multiple parts, one part of the law may be morally turpitudinous, whereas another part is not. If you have any criminal arrests, it’s important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney before applying for immigration benefits.

When does a Conviction for a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude Matter?

Whether and how a CIMT will affect your case depends on the number of CIMT convictions, the potential and actual sentences, the person’s immigration status, and when the CIMT occurred.

Having a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude matters because it can make you inadmissible or deportable from the United States. Admissibility refers to people who are trying to gain entry to the United States (applying for a green card or applying for admission at a port of entry), deportability pertains to people who have already been admitted to the United States.

Grounds of Inadmissibly

The Immigration and Nationality Act §212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) tells us that having a conviction for a CIMT makes a person inadmissible. The INA provides for two exceptions when having a conviction for a CIMT will not make a person inadmissible:

  1. If the crime was committed when the individual was under 18 and the crime occurred more than five years before the date of application; OR
  1. If the crime falls under the ‘petty offense exception.’ The petty offense exception provides for having one CIMT if the maximum possible sentence for the crime was one year or less, and the actual sentence received was six months or less. The petty offense exception only excuses one CIMT. If someone has two convictions for CIMTs, that person is inadmissible, even if both convictions could fall under the petty offense exception.

Grounds of Deportability

The grounds of deportability pertaining to crimes involving moral turpitude are found at INA §237(a)(2)(A). The grounds of deportability apply to lawful permanent residents as well as those admitted in lawful non-immigrant status. A conviction for a CIMT will render someone deportable:

  1. If it was committed within five years of admission (or entry), and the possible sentence is one year or more; OR
  1. Any individual convicted of two or more CIMTs after admission is deportable.

If you have a criminal arrest history, please contact an immigration attorney who is trustworthy and knowledgeable! Our attorneys at Landerholm Immigration, APC, are experienced in cases with criminal convictions and involving crimes involving moral turpitude. Please feel free to call us at (510) 491-0291 to see how we can help!