Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 20.1 I. Summary for Criminal Defense Attorneys

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There are three chief immigration consequences of conviction or commission of one or more crimes of moral turpitude:


(1)        Conviction or commission of one or more CMTs will, under certain circumstances, trigger inadmissibility.  See § § 20.25-20.31, infra.


(2)        One CMT conviction will, under certain circumstances, trigger deportability.  See § § 20.32-20.37, infra.


(3)        Two or more CMT convictions will, under other circumstances, trigger deportability.  See § § 20.38-20.41, infra.


Conviction or commission of a CMT may also bar a noncitizen from demonstrating the “Good Moral Character” required for various immigration benefits, such as naturalization.[1]


Under certain limited circumstances, even if there is no conviction, a noncitizen’s admission of having committed a crime involving moral turpitude may trigger inadmissibility (see § 18.8, infra), or disqualify the noncitizen from certain forms of relief.  Merely committing a CMT will not make a noncitizen deportable.


                Noncitizens convicted of, or who have committed, crimes of moral turpitude are, in general, given more lenient treatment under the immigration law than those convicted of aggravated felonies or controlled substances offenses.  Most grounds of relief from removal applied to waive criminal activities will work to waive CMTs.  Remember, however, that a given criminal conviction may be considered a CMT and an aggravated felony and/or controlled substances offense, triggering different immigration consequences from those triggered by a CMT.


Depending on a noncitizen’s immigration status and history, conviction or admission of commission of even a single CMT could mean ineligibility for all forms of relief and mandatory deportation.  Therefore, it is always important to look at the conviction or admission in this context to make an accurate determination of the exact immigration consequences of the CMT.

[1] See § 15.6, supra.




In the light of the recent published decision by outgoing Attorney General Mukasey, Matter of Silva-Trevino 24 I. & N. Dec. 687 (A.G. November 2008), the question of what is a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) and the methodology for deciding it, is currently unsettled. The Ninth Circuits recent 7-5 en banc decision in Marmolejo-Campos v. Holder, 558 F.3d 903 (9th Cir. 2009), added to this uncertainty by holding that where the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rules on "moral turpitude" in a precedential decision, the Court will apply the doctrine of administrative deference. The combination of these decisions tends to undermine the analytical framework with which these issues are analyzed, and may call into question some previously settled rulings on which non-citizens could normally rely.

Because this issue is still in flux, non-citizens who have pleaded guilty to criminal offenses should neither travel out of the United States, nor, in some cases, out of the 7 states of the 9th Circuit , nor should they apply to naturalize or for other immigration benefits, until they have consulted with competent immigration counsel. Thanks to Jonathan Moore.