Immigration: Crime of Moral Turpitude

Defining “Crime of Moral Turpitude”

Written opinions from the Board of Immigration Appeals (B.I.A.) describe moral turpitude as a “nebulous concept,” and one that “refers generally to conduct that shocks the public conscience as being inherently base, vile, or depraved, contrary to the rules of morality and the duties owed between man and man, either one’s fellow man or society in general.” The person committing it should have had either an “evil intent” or been acting recklessly.

A CMT has also been called “per se morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong.”

This collection of words seems to point to a highly subjective determination—if the immigration official or judge thinks the crime sounds morally wrong, or perhaps mean and nasty, it’s probably a crime of moral turpitude.

Among the many specific offenses that the U.S. government and courts have determined to be CMTs in individual cases are:

  • murder
  • voluntary manslaughter
  • involuntary manslaughter, in some cases
  • rape
  • spousal abuse
  • child abuse
  • incest
  • kidnaping
  • robbery
  • aggravated assault
  • mayhem
  • animal fighting
  • theft
  • fraud, and
  • conspiracy, attempt, or acting as an accessory to a crime if that crime involved moral turpitude.

However, the above list contains only brief summaries of various types of crimes. Most criminal convictions are based on state law, so their actual definitions will be lengthier and more complex. The details within the language of the statute may potentially affect the determination of whether a particular crime is a CMT.