Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 20.21 (B)

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(B)  Foreign Convictions.  The State Department, in processing visa applications, has stated: “The presence of moral turpitude in a statutory offense is determined according to the moral standards prevailing in the United States.”[124]  This concept may also be used to mean that whether an offense involves moral turpitude is to be decided on the basis of U.S. standards, as opposed to moral standards prevailing in foreign countries.[125]  See § 7.25, supra.


                For example, in United States ex rel. McKenzie v. Savoretti,[126] the court held that the INS did not have to prove that the British West Indies convictions of crimes of forgery, uttering, and stealing involved moral turpitude in the foreign jurisdiction by investigating the substantive foreign law.  The noncitizen argued that his convictions were actually for juvenile delinquency, and that he was tried and convicted as an adult offender because a juvenile court had not been set up in the British West Indies.  The court rejected this argument, saying that moral turpitude within the scope of the immigration laws is determined without reference to the laws of foreign jurisdictions, and that where the noncitizen had admitted the accuracy of the record showing his conviction of the crimes of forgery, uttering, and stealing, the determination that he had been convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude was correct, since under United States standards these crimes are considered to be crimes of moral turpitude.

In Mercer v. Lence,[127] the court also rejected the noncitizen’s argument that Canadian statutes must be consulted in order to determine whether the crime of conspiracy to defraud involves moral turpitude, and that without proof as to whether the crime proscribed by the foreign statute involved moral turpitude, the question could not be determined here.  The court held that moral turpitude for immigration purposes must be determined according to United States standards, and concluded that the noncitizen had been convicted of a crime which U.S. courts regard as involving moral turpitude.


[124] 9 U.S. Dep’t of State, Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) § 40.21(a) N2.1.

[125] Squires v. INS, 689 F.2d 1276, 1278 (6th Cir. 1982) (appraisal of petty offense statute);

United States ex rel. Ventura v. Shaughnessy, 219 F.2d 249 (2d Cir. 1955) (Portuguese crime “very similar to what we call burglary or larceny”); McKenzie v. Savoretti, 200 F.2d 546 (5th Cir. 1952); Mercer v. Lence, 96 F.2d 122 (10th Cir.), cert. den., 305 U.S. 611 (1938); Whitty v. Weedin, 68 F.2d 127 (9th Cir. 1933) (bigamy committed in Canada); Pillisz v. Smith, 46 F.2d 769 (7th Cir. 1931) (manslaughter committed in Hungary); United States ex rel. Ulrich v. Kellogg, 58 App. D.C. 360, 30 F.2d 984, 71 A.L.R. 1210 (D.C. Cir.), cert. den., 279 U.S. 868 (1929) (conviction in foreign country of larceny, irrespective of whether it was petit or grand larceny under American standards); Matter of McNaughton, 16 I. & N. Dec. 569 (BIA 1978) (securities fraud); Matter of M, 9 I. & N. Dec. 132 (BIA 1960); Ex parte Isojoki, 222 Fed. 151 (D. Cal. 1915) (unmarried woman living in Sweden with unmarried man, and having isolated intercourse with other unmarried men, both in Sweden and on a ship en route to Australia); Siniscalchi v. Thomas, 195 F. 701 (6th Cir. 1912) (conviction of rape in Italy); United States ex rel. Huber v. Sibray, 178 F. 144 (C.C.Pa. 1910), rev’d on other grounds, 185 F. 401 (3d Cir. 1910) (adultery committed in Austria); Forbes v. Brownell, 149 F.Supp. 848 (D.D.C. 1957) (bigamy in Canada); United States ex rel. Cumberbatch v. Shaughnessy, 117 F.Supp. 152 (D.N.Y. 1953) (false statement before United States consular officer in Trinidad); United States ex rel. Teper v. Miller, 87 F.Supp. 285 (D.N.Y. 1949) (noncitizen’s conviction in England of “stealing a fur” from his wife); United States ex rel. Ciarello v. Reimer, 32 F.Supp. 797 (D.N.Y. 1940) (assault and battery in Italy); United States ex rel. Chartrand v. Karnuth, 31 F.Supp. 799 (D.N.Y. 1940) (conviction in Canada of theft of shoes valued at $12); United States ex rel. Schreiber v. Reimer, 19 F.Supp. 719 (D.N.Y. 1937) (embezzlement committed in Belgium); Matter of Katsanis, 14 I. & N. Dec. 266 (BIA 1973); Matter of Awaijane, 14 I. & N. Dec. 117 (BIA 1972); Matter of M, 9 I. & N. Dec. 132 (1960) (swindling, forgery, and “violation of domicile” in Italy); Matter of D, 4 I. & N. Dec. 149 (BIA 1950) (attempted suicide); Matter of M, 2 I. & N. Dec. 686 (BIA 1946) (Canadian conviction for “joy riding”).

[126] United States ex rel. McKenzie v. Savoretti, 200 F.2d 546 (5th Cir. 1952).

[127] Mercer v. Lence, 96 F.2d 122 (10th Cir.), cert. den., 305 U.S. 611 (1938).