Crimes of Moral Turpitude


§ 1.1 I. Introduction

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The aim of this volume is to aid immigration and criminal counsel by gathering comprehensive information concerning a number of topics:


(1)    the various immigration consequences of crimes of moral turpitude,

(2)    principles used by immigration and federal courts to determine when a conviction is, and is not, considered a crime involving moral turpitude, and

(3)    immigration and federal court decisions regarding the moral turpitude, or lack of it, inherent in different state, federal, and foreign criminal offenses.


In researching this book, we reviewed and summarized all decisions of the Attorney General, Board of Immigration Appeals, and all federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, all circuit courts of appeal, and all district courts, that state what offenses are and are not crimes of moral turpitude from roughly 1940 to the present.  This was done by searching electronically for the phrase “moral turpitude,” within all BIA cases from 1 I. & N. Dec. 1 to the present, and all reported federal cases.  The most important moral turpitude decisions predating 1940 were also included. About 2000 decisions were reviewed during the research for this book, which was completed on March 1, 2008. 


The vast majority of the decisions included in this work are cases in which the phrase “moral turpitude” was interpreted for immigration purposes.  We have also included, however, all other federal and state decisions interpreting “moral turpitude” for other purposes, notably witness-impeachment purposes, for whatever persuasive value they may have. See § 8.2(F), infra.


Caution is urged in generalizing from a CMT decision cited here to the particular client’s case you may have under consideration.  The moral turpitude determination may differ for a number of reasons.  The elements of the offense, as defined by the statute, may differ between the two cases, even though they involve the same type of crime.  Each individual statute must be examined.[1]  Even if the statute is involved, it may have been amended between the two convictions, or judicial decisions of the jurisdiction of conviction may have altered the elements required for conviction of the offense in the interim.  The law governing the rules to be applied in determining whether a given conviction triggers certain immigration consequences may have changed between the dates of the two convictions.  The courts may have altered the rules for determining whether a conviction involves moral turpitude.  The record of conviction in one case may be different from the record in another.  Therefore, the cases collected here should be used as the starting point rather than as a substitute for legal research and analysis.


            Chapter 1 describes the contents of the book.  Chapter 2 discusses recurring “General Considerations” that govern immigration consequences of crimes of moral turpitude in several contexts, to reduce the need to repeat the law governing certain general principles in several parts of the book.  These general considerations include alienage, § 2.2,[2] the requirement of a conviction, § 2.3, with extensive discussion of many aspects of that general concept, including what is a conviction, what is not a conviction, effective ways to eliminate a conviction for immigration purposes, and the requirement that the conviction be for a crime.  See § 2.14, infra.


            Chapter 3 contains a brief overview of the immigration consequences concerning eligibility for those with different immigration statuses and seeking different forms of relief in immigration court, organized alphabetically according to the name of the status or form of relief.


            Chapter 4 covers the ground of inadmissibility resulting from conviction, § 4.3, or admission, see § 4.4, of one CMT, together with the three exceptions: the Petty Offense Exception, § 4.5, the Youthful Offender Exception, § 4.6, the Political Offense Exception, see § 4.7, and the significance of inadmissibility.  See § 4.8, infra.


            Chapter 5 covers the two grounds of deportability: (1) deportability resulting from one CMT conviction for an offense with a maximum of one year or more committed within five years after the last admission (10 years for those admitted on “S” visas), see § § 5.1-5.11, infra, (2) deportability resulting from two CMT convictions not committed as part of a single scheme of criminal misconduct, see § § 5.12-5.15, and (3) the significance of deportablity.  See § 5.16, infra.


            Chapter 6 outlines the basic analysis for determining whether a given conviction constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude: determining the essential elements of the offense of conviction, see § 6.3, infra, and determining whether the minimum conduct necessary to violate the statute invariably involves moral turpitude, see § 6.6, infra, resolving all reasonable doubts in favor of the noncitizen.  See § 6.7, infra.


            Chapter 7 describes the analysis employed in determining whether a conviction rendered under a “divisible statute” involves moral turpitude: first, determining whether a statute is “divisible”, see § 7.2, infra, and second, consulting the record of conviction to determine which offense within a divisible statute, that defines multiple offenses, was the offense of conviction.  See § 7.7, infra.  At that point, the basic analysis is employed to determine whether the conviction involves moral turpitude.  See Chapter 6, infra.  Chapter 7 lists the documents included in the record of conviction, see § 7.11, infra, and the documents excluded from the record.  See § 7.12, infra.


            Chapter 8 discusses the definition of a crime involving moral turpitude: the general definition, see § 8.2, the various types of intent that do and do not signal the presence of moral turpitude, see § § 8.3-8.18, the significance of the gravity of the offense or sentence, see § 8.20, and the role of contemporary standards in determining whether an offense involves moral turpitude, see § 8.13, as well as discussions of regulatory, target and non-substantive offenses.  See § § 8.22-8.24, infra.


            Chapter 9, the heart of the book, however, is the extensive collection of Judicial Decisions determining what offenses are, and are not, crimes involving moral turpitude.  This chapter is broken down into 12 categories of offense: Accessory Liability, Controlled Substance Offenses, Crimes Against the Person, Crimes Against the Government, Crimes Against Property, False Statement Offenses, Firearms Offenses, Immigration Offenses, Inchoate and Generic Crimes, Motor Vehicle Offenses, Offenses Involving the Family, and Sexual Offenses.


            Chapter 10 discusses the effect on criminal and immigration proceedings of various types of post-conviction relief from convictions of, and sentences for, crimes involving moral turpitude.


            In addition to compiling the most complete collection of CMT cases anywhere, we have tried to make the law governing what offenses are, and what are not, crimes of moral turpitude easily accessible.  There are a number of ways to discover the case law closest on point for a particular CMT question:


(1)    The Detailed Table of Contents;

(2)    The Table of Cases will reveal the areas in which a certain offense is discussed, starting from one citation to a pertinent case; and

(3)    The Index seeks to grant access to specific discussions according to the key words defining the offense.



Appendix A consists of a Table of Decisions Defining Crimes of Moral Turpitude.  This Table has been substantially reorganized since publication of the first edition in 2002, and all relevant case law since then has been added as well.  This Table is kept up to date on a monthly basis on our web site:


            Appendix B consists of a Bibliography of secondary authority discussions of crimes involving moral turpitude.


            Appendix C offers a checklist and brief description of crime-related grounds of inadmissibility, their exceptions, and associated waivers.


            At the conclusion of the book, information is offered concerning other important resources available in the general area of Crimes and Immigration.

[1] Franklin v. INS, 72 F.3d 571, 572-573 (8th Cir. 1995), cert. den., 519 U.S. 834, 117 S.Ct. 105, 136 L.Ed.2d 59 (1996) (refusing to adopt bright-line rule regarding classification of crimes of moral turpitude; each specific statute must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis).

[2] Reference to a section of this work will be in the form “§ 2.2”.




Immigration Reduces Crime Rates Tue Mar 18, 4:11 PM ET Contrary to popular stereotypes, areas undergoing immigration are associated with lower violence, not spiraling crime, according to a new study by Harvard University sociologist Robert Sampson, published in the American Sociological Association's Contexts magazine. He examined crime and immigration in Chicago and around the United States to find the truth behind the popular perception that increasing immigration leads to crime. His study summarizes patterns from seven years' worth of violent acts in Chicago committed by whites, blacks and Hispanics from 180 neighborhoods of varying levels of integration. He also analyzed recent data from police records and the U.S. Census for all communities in Chicago. Sampson found concentrated immigration predicts lower, not higher, rates of violence across communities in Chicago, with the relationship strongest in poor neighborhoods. Violence was also significantly lower among Mexican-Americans than among blacks and whites. Sampson refers to this as the "Latino Paradox," whereby Hispanic Americans do better on a range of social indicators, including propensity to violence, than one would expect, given their socioeconomic disadvantages. His analysis also revealed that first-generation immigrants were 45 percent less likely to commit violence than third-generation Americans. "The pattern of immigrant generational status and lower crime rates is not restricted to Latinos; it extends to help explain white-black differences as well," Sampson said. "We're so used to thinking about immigrant assimilation that we've failed to fully appreciate how immigrants themselves shape their host society." Sampson's arguments are supported at the national level as well. Significant immigration growth - including by illegal aliens - occurred in the mid-1990s, peaking at the end of the decade. During this time, the national homicide rate plunged. Crime dropped even in immigration hot spots, such as Los Angeles (where it dropped 45 percent overall).

Ninth Circuit

Castro-ORyan v. U.S. Dept of Immigr. & Naturalization, 847 F.2d 1307, 1312 (9th Cir. 1988) (With only a small degree of hyperbole, the immigration laws have been termed second only to the Internal Revenue Code in complexity. (quoting Elizabeth Hull, Without Justice for All 107 (1985))).


Immigration crime was the most common category of federal crime for which suspects were arrested and booked by the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), the federal agency responsible for taking a criminal suspect into custody. Mark Motivans, Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Justice Statistics, 2010 (Dec. 2013). Thanks to
Solomon Moore, Study Shows Sharp Rise in Latino Federal Convicts, N.Y. Times (Feb. 19, 2009) http://www.nytimes. com/2009/ 02/19/us/ 19immig.html
Federal immigration prosecutions continued their recent and highly unusual surge in March 2008, apparently reaching an all-time high, according to timely data obtained from the Justice Department by TRAC. The total of 9,350 such prosecutions was up by almost 50% from the previous month and 73% from the previous year.
In January 2008, there were 4,739 federal prosecutions classified as immigration matters, according to timely enforcement data from the Justice Department. This is up over 20% from the previous month, and represents the largest monthly number of such prosecutions in the past seven years. There has been substantial growth in the number of cases handled by U.S. Magistrate Courts, and some portion of this increase may reflect improvements in the recording of these magistrate cases by the Justice Department. For reports on the latest enforcement trends, see
HYPERLINK "" Bureau of Justice Statics homepage.
"The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, & Sovereign Power," Juliet Stumpf, Lewis and Clark Law School ("This article provides a fresh theoretical perspective on the most important development in immigration law today: the convergence of immigration and criminal law. Although the connection between immigration and criminal law, or "crimmigration law," is now the subject of national debate, scholarship in this area is in a fledgling state. This article begins to fill that void. It proposes a unifying theory - membership theory - for why these two areas of law recently have become so connected, and why that convergence is troubling. Membership theory restricts individual rights and privileges to those who are members of a social contract between the government and the people. It is at work in the convergence of criminal and immigration law in marking out the boundaries of who is an accepted member of society.").
The latest Justice Department data show that federal prosecutions reached an all time high in FY 2009. The surge was driven by a sharp increase in immigration filings. According to timely case-by-case data obtained and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), overall federal prosecutions peaked at 169,612, up nearly 9 percent from the previous year. But the increase in immigration filings was much sharper -- 15.7 percent. This means that such prosecutions now make up well over half of all criminal cases brought by the government. Meanwhile, the prosecution of other major crime categories such as drugs, weapons and white collar crime was up only slightly or had actually declined. To obtain the fiscal year-end summary report, go to Thanks to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.