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What Are Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude?


In our American form of government, our society collectively detests certain acts. Our state lawmakers write and rewrite laws to reflect these unacceptable acts and their punishments. Acts that subject a person to legal punishment are otherwise known as crimes.

Some people believe that committing a crime, like theft, under certain life-or-death circumstances, should be a forgivable offense, not considered a crime. Others can agree that we can be forgiven for most minor crimes if they were committed in our youth, and we have since straightened up.

But what about really bad crimes? And what is it about these crimes that make them more offensive than “minor” crimes?

Some crimes can lead to negative consequences beyond even criminal penalties. They might limit future employment opportunities, voting rights, and immigration relief. These crimes are called “crimes involving moral turpitude.”

What’s the Legal Definition of Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude?

Most crimes are categorized by their severity and punishments for committing crimes also reflect the crime’s severity. Misdemeanor crimes, categorically, are all those for which a person can be punished by less than one year in jail. Felony crimes, on the other hand, are ones that are punishable by at least one year of imprisonment, with or without hard labor.

A crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) can be a misdemeanor or a felony. CIMTs are not necessarily a more severe category of crime. The defining feature of a CIMT is the way the crime is viewed by society.

“Moral turpitude” is a phrase that describes wicked, deviant behavior that’s so far from ordinary social standards that the behavior is detestable to the community. Crimes involving moral turpitude can be:

  • Shocking to the conscience
  • A grave violation of socially acceptable behavior
  • Vile or depraved acts

CIMTs have also been described as involving shameful wickedness.

Crimes That Are CIMTs vs. Crimes That Are Not

Many crimes involving moral turpitude reflect the harm a person’s bad acts inflict on another person. The following crimes, for example, are considered CIMTs:

In addition, domestic violence constitutes a CIMT. In general, crimes that cause serious bodily or financial harm to others are egregious. Wanton and reckless behavior, like driving under the influence, can also be a CIMT.

Crimes that do not harm others or which may minimally harm others often escape the CIMT designation. For example, simple assault (without a dangerous weapon) is not a CIMT. Similarly, simple possession of firearm charges under KRS 527.040 have not been held to be a CIMT.

What Are the Immigration Consequences of Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude?

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a criminal defense attorney representing an immigrant must advise their client of the immigration consequences of guilty pleas in criminal cases. A conviction or guilty plea to a CIMT has two potential immigration consequences:

  • Inadmissibility
  • Removal

One situation involves entry into the U.S., while the other involves physical expulsion from the country.

Non-U.S. citizens, including visa holders and licensed permanent residents (“green card” holders) who are convicted of, or plead guilty to, a CIMT are ineligible for admission to the U.S. If these individuals leave the U.S., to visit their home country or for a vacation, even, they will be inadmissible when they attempt to return to the U.S. legally.

Likewise, any non-U.S. citizen present in the U.S., with or without documentation, who is convicted of or pleads guilty to a CIMT is subject to removal. Removal means deportation. In fact, many local law enforcement agencies notify immigration agencies when a non-citizen is convicted or pleads guilty to any crime.

What Consequences Do CIMTs Have For U.S. Citizens?

If you are a U.S. citizen, don’t think you’re off the hook for CIMTs. Crimes involving fraud, deception, or dishonesty are also categorized as CIMTs.


Professional licensing bodies look harshly on CIMTs. Most professional licensing bodies for doctors, lawyers, nurses, pharmacists, and therapists require full disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history at the time of licensing. If you have a conviction or guilty plea to a CIMT, you may be denied licensure.

Credibility as a Witness

CIMTs also cast doubt upon a person’s credibility. Having shown a propensity to dishonesty or behavior that disregards socially acceptable criteria harms a person’s credibility as a witness in court or any other formal proceeding.

What Should I Do If I Am Charged With A CIMT?

If you are charged with a CIMT, it is critical that you seek the services of a reputable criminal defense attorney to help you with your case. Since CIMTs have consequences that outlast even the criminal penalties, you want to do everything you can to avoid a conviction or guilty plea when you are charged with a CIMT.

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