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What is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude?

I discussed in an earlier blog that all arrests, convictions and cautions must be declared by applicants seeking entry into the USA. If you haven't already, you may wish to read Help! Will My Criminal Record Prevent Me From Travelling to the USA?. Today, we will tackle the nebulous world of crimes involving moral turpitude.

How is a crime distinguished from a "Crime involving moral turpitude" (CIMT)?

Court have defined CIMTs as "conduct which is inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general". It is something "per se morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong, or malum in se, so it is the nature of the act itself and not the statutory prohibition of it which renders a crime one of moral turpitude."

That's all fine and good, but a person may not consider any of the crimes he or she committed to be base, vile or depraved. However, the determination of whether a particular crime is a CIMT is not made by the visa applicant, but by the courts.

How is a visa applicant to know whether or not their criminal conviction is a CIMT?

This is where we get into very stormy waters. Particularly if you're not legally trained or lack US immigration training, it can be a very difficult determination to make. The Department of State has issued some guidance on what crimes constitute CIMTs, indicating that the most common elements involving moral turpitude are: (1) Fraud; (2) Larceny; and (3) Intent to harm persons or things. Lists have been compiled of crimes that fall within the ambit of CIMTs and crimes that don't.

Quite unhelpfully and seemingly bizarrely, some crimes fall within both lists! This is why this area of the law is a potential landmine for the uninitiated as small details can make a huge difference between being able to avoid the CIMT designation or not.

What are the consequences of a CIMT?

If a person has been arrested, convicted, or "admits committing acts which constitute the essential elements of" a CIMT, then this person is inadmissible to the United States. This means that a person cannot enter the USA, whether on the Visa Waiver Programme (ESTA) or using a US visa. However, the applicant can apply for a waiver at the US Embassy in London or the US Consulate in Belfast. If the waiver is granted, the applicant can still be issued a visa and travel to the USA.

Are there any exceptions to the CIMT?

There are two exceptions that may provide relief to visa applicants who otherwise have a criminal arrest or conviction that constitutes a CIMTs. It is important to note that only one CIMT will be able to benefit from the exception. If the visa applicant has more than one CIMTs, then he or she will still be inadmissible based on the remainder of arrests or convictions.

One of the exceptions applies when the visa applicant was under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime AND more than 5 years have passed between the conviction (and release from any imprisonment or juvenile correctional institution) and the date when the applicant applies for a US visa or for actual entry into the USA. If this exception applies, then there is no CIMT for all practical purposes.

The second exception is called the "petty offence" exception and the key issue to examine is the length of the sentence for the particular crime. If the maximum sentence possible under the statute was one year or less AND the time that the applicant was sentenced to was six months or less, then the exception applies.

CIMTs are very confusing for many in the legal profession, so it's no wonder that visa applicants often feel overwhelmed. I hope this introduction to crimes involving moral turpitude helped you understand this topic a bit better, but I would like to stress that it is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a US immigration lawyer. If you have the slightest suspicion that your criminal history may trigger a CIMT finding, it may be wise to seek legal assistance.

The American Immigration Law Office is a US immigration law firm in London, UK, handling a variety of US immigration cases. If you would like legal advice concerning the US immigration consequences of your criminal history, please contact the office for a consultation today!