If you’re charged with a crime – either a misdemeanor or a felony – having the words “crime of moral turpitude” attached to it can mean serious consequences.

Although they’re not easily understood, crimes of moral turpitude can have long-lasting impacts on a person’s life. This is especially true if you hold a professional license or are an immigrant.

What is a Crime Of Moral Turpitude?

The phrase “moral turpitude” describes an offense or crime that is vile or an insult to morality. Such a crime typically involves fraud, dishonesty, or anything that goes against the norms of society.

In its policy manual, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) defines moral turpitude as being “contrary to the rules of morality and the duties owed between man and man, either one’s fellow man or society in general.”

The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, in its journal of criminal justice education and research, has another definition of crimes of moral turpitude.

They are crimes, which are “in general, shameful wickedness – so extreme a departure from ordinary standards of honesty, good morals, justice, or ethics as to be shocking to the moral sense of the community.”

What Are Examples of Crimes of Moral Turpitude?

Among the crimes that are likely to be labeled as crimes of moral turpitude include:

  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Felony hit and run
  • Spousal abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Drug crimes
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Kidnapping
  • Fraud
  • Theft
  • Robbery.

Again, this is merely a partial list of crimes likely to carry the moral turpitude label.

If there is confusion over whether or not to use the “crime of moral turpitude” term with such offenses, a judge or jury will typically consider the person’s state of mind or intent at the time of the crime.

What are the Consequences of Being Convicted of a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

Because crimes of moral turpitude are actually a reflection on your integrity and your ability to tell the truth, a conviction for such a crime can have a serious impact on your life.

Employment

If your job requires you to have a professional license, a crime of moral turpitude conviction could place it in jeopardy. Often, the professional boards that issue the licenses will impose either suspension or revocation for crimes of moral turpitude.

Kentucky state employees are subject to immediate termination for conviction of such a crime.

Witness credibility

If you are ever called as a witness in a court case, your credibility will definitely be doubted by the opposing attorney because of a previous conviction for a crime of moral turpitude.

Immigration

Convictions for crimes of moral turpitude can have a significant impact on a person’s immigration status.

The Immigration Act of 1917 first made it the law to deport people for committing crimes of moral turpitude. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 then allowed for the exclusion of people entering the county based on such crimes.

Today, an immigrant already living in the U.S. or seeking to enter the country could face the real possibility of deportation or being ruled inadmissible because of such a conviction.

Whether deportation or refusal of admission occurs depends on a host of conditions.

For example, whether or not there are multiple charges of crimes of moral turpitude, if the offense happened within five years of entering the U.S., if the conviction carries a jail sentence, or if the offense happened before or after entering the country.

There is, however, a “petty offense exception” related to deportation or denial of admission to the country. If there is just one offense and the maximum sentence does not last for more than a year, the crime will most likely not result in deportation or denial of admission.

Avoiding Convictions for Crimes of Moral Turpitude

Although being charged with any crime is a serious issue, a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude can lead to life-altering results for your professional and personal life.

Your best option after being charged is to speak with a criminal defense attorney. While each case is different, being charged is very different from actually being convicted.

Keep in mind that the actual definition of moral turpitude is vague and broad, so there are often many factors involved in the determination of whether it applies to a given case.

Because of the vagueness and complexity of the term, a skilled criminal defense attorney often negotiates with prosecutors for a plea to a lesser crime – one that doesn’t include moral turpitude – or to have the charges reduced or dropped altogether.