No statutory definition of crimes involving moral turpitude (CIMTs) exists. Instead, the legal community has relied on case law and court decisions to characterize and identify CIMTs. Generally, they are considered offenses that shock the conscience of the community because they are so depraved and unethical. Various acts fall into this classification, including misdemeanors and felonies. Interestingly, the phrase “crimes involving moral turpitude” is not clearly defined, yet a conviction for such an offense can have significant consequences, especially for non-U.S. citizens. Being found guilty of or admitting to having committed a CIMT can render someone inadmissible or removable from the U.S. Criminal defense attorneys representing clients charged with CIMTs must explore all legal options to seek to avoid the lasting impacts of a conviction.
What Are Considered Crimes of Moral Turpitude?
A conviction for a CIMT carries more than a potential prison term and/or fines. It can cause someone to be removed from or prohibited from entering the U.S. However, the definition of this important term won’t be found in any state or federal statutes. Rather, criminal defendants, their attorneys, and others going through the justice system must refer to court interpretations to understand what comprises a CIMT.
According to case law, a CIMT is a wicked or immoral act that is vile or depraved. It is reprehensible and shocking, going against accepted societal standards. Typically, an offense rises to the level of a CIMT if the alleged offender acted with reckless or malicious intent. In other words, on some level, the defendant knew that what they were doing was morally unacceptable.
CIMTs are usually crimes that result in great bodily harm, involve defrauding others, or deprive owners of their property. They can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, but the offense will not be labeled as a CIMT at the time of charging.
Examples of CIMTs include the following:
What Are the Effects of a CIMT Conviction?
As with any other crime, a CIMT conviction can lead to incarceration, fines, and other criminal sanctions. It can also result in severe consequences for non-U.S. citizens. A guilty verdict or plea can cause a person to be deemed inadmissible or removable from the U.S., as these crimes demonstrate a lack of good moral character. Permanent residents, F-1 students, non-residents with lawful status, and undocumented individuals could lose their status or be ineligible to apply for residency or adjustments of status.
Deportability Because of a CIMT
A non-citizen may be deemed removable because of a CIMT in two ways:
- They are convicted of two or more CIMTs: The conviction must have happened any time after the individual was admitted to the U.S. However, two exceptions exist: the crime was purely political, or the individual received multiple charges for a single act.
- They are convicted of one CIMT within 5 years of being admitted to the U.S.: The offense must have a maximum potential sentence of 1 year or more.
Inadmissibility Because of a CIMT
A non-U.S. citizen is considered inadmissible if they are convicted of just one CIMT at any time before or after they seek admission to the U.S.
Two exceptions exist:
- Petty offense exception: The individual has been convicted of only one CIMT in their life. The crime they were convicted of carried a maximum sentence of 1 year, but the defendant received a sentence of 6 months or less.
- Youthful offender exception: The defendant was a non-citizen under 18 years of age at the time of the offense. They have only committed one CIMT, and it’s been at least 5 years since they were convicted or released from prison.
Working with a Criminal Defense Attorney
CIMTs can have substantial ramifications for non-U.S. citizens. It is important when charged with one of these offenses that the individual retain the services of a lawyer ready to examine available legal avenues to work toward avoiding a conviction. For example, the defense can fight to cast doubt in the minds of a judge or jury, or they can negotiate a deal where the defendant pleads to a lesser crime that isn’t considered a CIMT.
At Patituce & Associates, our Cleveland attorneys are well-versed in criminal law and leave no stone unturned as we fight for our clients. Discuss your case by contacting us at (440) 709-8088.