Under both state and federal law, some offenses are considered “crimes of moral turpitude,” meaning they involve serious dishonesty, fraud, or something morally reprehensible. While the term may sound old-fashioned and outdated, it is still very relevant when it comes to the law, as it can result in additional post-conviction consequences. Unfortunately, what crimes fall under the umbrella of moral turpitude can be confusing as the definition is open for interpretation, which is why this aspect of California law is so little understood.
What is the Meaning of Moral Turpitude?
A crime involving moral turpitude (often shortened to CIMT) is an act that is so outside of societal norms of honesty, integrity, and fairness that it would shock an average person. In practice, the definition is vague enough that even the California Supreme Court has said it evades “precise general definition.” One thing that is always true is that for a criminal act to fall under this distinction, a person must have been acting intentionally, not just making a poor choice or doing something by accident.
What Qualifies as a CIMT in California?
No specific law defines these offenses in the state penal code, nor are any particular crimes labeled as such under their individual statutes. In most cases, the specifics of the offense will determine if it is technically a crime of moral turpitude. Overall, however, these offenses fall into one of two categories: crimes of dishonesty and crimes showing a readiness to do evil.
The dishonesty element is what makes a relatively minor crime such as shoplifting or petty a crime of moral turpitude, while reckless driving is not. In some cases, the “evilness” of an offense will determine whether or not it falls under this category. For example, battery is not usually considered a crime of moral turpitude, but if it involves serious bodily injury, it may be.
Offenses that frequently are considered CIMT include:
However, being charged with one of these offenses doesn’t always mean you’re being accused of a crime of moral turpitude. Instead, a judge must determine that the circumstances of these crimes meet the definition.
If you have been accused of a crime, your lawyer can explain if it can be considered a crime involving moral turpitude. If it is, he may be able to help you avoid having the label added to your record.
What are the Consequences of Moral Turpitude Crimes?
Being convicted for an offense labeled as a crime of moral turpitude will not result in any additional criminal penalties, but the designation can be life-altering for many individuals.
Moral Turpitude Immigration Consequences
This label can sometimes be devastating for non-citizens as it has very real immigration consequences. Someone can be deported for a crime of moral turpitude if they either:
- are sentenced to over one year of incarceration within five years of being admitted into the US
- are convicted of two or more crimes of moral turpitude related to two different incidents
Even if someone does not qualify for deportation under the law, they may still be labeled as inadmissible, meaning they cannot reenter the country after leaving. Similarly, a conviction that does not render someone unable to enter the US could still leave them unable to apply for permanent citizenship. Additionally, some immigrants, such as participants in the DACA program, are subject to stricter rules and can be deported for certain misdemeanors, including DUI.
If you have any questions about whether or not a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude will affect your ability to stay in the US, contact a defense lawyer and an immigration attorney as soon as possible.
Professional License Consequences
If you have a professional license, such as a medical or realtor license, you could lose it after a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude. In most cases, a crime must be related to your occupation for it to affect your ability to hold a professional license. For some professionals, such as lawyers, however, any conviction for a CIMT offense is sufficient to show you do not have the moral standing to uphold the profession’s standards.
Even if it does not cause you to lose your license, these convictions can also hurt your ability to find employment later on in the future. Fortunately, most people convicted of crimes in California qualify for automatic record expungement.
A conviction for these types of crimes can also leave someone impeached if they are asked to serve as witnesses in court later on. Impeachment as a witness means that if you are asked to testify, even in a civil lawsuit, the opposing attorney could bring up your conviction, and whatever you say will be considered untrustworthy.
Juvenile Record Sealing
Minors typically qualify for automatic record sealing after they complete probation for a crime. However, if they are convicted of a crime of moral turpitude after their original criminal charge, they will be ineligible to have the record for the prior offense sealed.
Take These Charges Seriously
These consequences are not to be taken lightly, so anyone accused of a crime of moral turpitude in California should immediately contact a top defense lawyer. If you have been charged with such a crime, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.