Moral turpitude

Moral turpitude is a legal concept in the United States that refers to "conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty, or good morals".

It is of great importance for immigration purposes, as only those offenses which are defined as involving moral turpitude are considered bars to immigration into the U.S.

Use in the Visa Waiver Program

The first question on document I-94W for those visiting the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program asks:

Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or been controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?

No guidance is provided to the traveller as to which offences are included in the definition; the website of the U.S. embassy in London advises that a visa is required for anyone who has ever been arrested or convicted for any offence.

Interpretation of moral turpitude

A definition of moral turpitude is available for immigration purposes on the United States Department of State website.

For offenses (or arrests on suspicion of such offenses) occurring outside the U.S., the locally defined offense must be considered against the U.S. definitions, and in such cases it is the definition of the offense (as defined in the appropriate country) which is considered for immigration purposes, and not the circumstances of the individual's actual case.

Category Crimes involving moral turpitude Crimes not involving moral turpitude
Crimes Against Property Fraud:
  • Making false representation
  • Knowledge of such false representation by the perpetrator
  • Reliance on the false representation by the person defrauded
  • An intent to defraud
  • The actual act of committing fraud

Evil intent:

  • Damaging private property (where intent to damage not required)
  • Breaking and entering (requiring no specific or implicit intent to commit a crime involving moral turpitude)
  • Passing bad checks (where intent to defraud not required)
  • Possessing stolen property (if guilty knowledge is not essential)
  • Joy riding (where the intention to take permanently not required)
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Trespassing
  • Crimes Committed Against Governmental Authority
  • Black market violations
  • Breach of the peace
  • Carrying a concealed weapon
  • Desertion from the Armed Forces
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Drunk or reckless driving
  • Driving while license suspended or revoked
  • Drunkenness
  • Escape from prison
  • Failure to report for military induction
  • False statements (not amounting to perjury or involving fraud)
  • Firearm violations
  • Gambling violations
  • Immigration violations
  • Liquor violations
  • Loan sharking
  • Lottery violations
  • Minor traffic violations
  • Possessing burglar tools (without intent to commit burglary)
  • Smuggling and customs violations (where intent to commit fraud is absent)
  • Tax evasion (without intent to defraud)
  • Vagrancy
  • Crimes Committed Against Person, Family Relationship, and Sexual Morality
    • Abandonment of a minor child (if willful and resulting in the destitution of the child)
    • Adultery (see INA 101** repealed by Public Law 97-116)
    • Assault (this crime is broken down into several categories, which involve moral turpitude):
      • Assault with intent to kill, commit rape, commit robbery or commit serious bodily harm
      • Assault with a dangerous or deadly weapon
    • Bigamy
    • Contributing to the delinquency of a minor
    • Gross indecency
    • Incest (if the result of an improper sexual relationship)
    • Kidnapping
    • Lewdness
    • Manslaughter:
      • Voluntary
      • Involuntary (where the statute requires proof of recklessness, which is defined as the awareness and conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustified risk which constitutes a gross deviation from the standard that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A conviction for the statutory offense of vehicular homicide or other involuntary manslaughter only requires a showing of negligence will not involve moral turpitude even if it appears the defendant in fact acted recklessly)
    • Mayhem
    • Murder
    • Pandering
    • Prostitution
    • Rape (including "Statutory rape" by virtue of the victim's age)
    • Sodomy
  • Assault (simple) (i.e., any assault, which does not require an evil intent or depraved motive, although it may involve the use of a weapon, which is neither dangerous nor deadly)
  • Bastardy (i.e., the offense of begetting a bastard child)
  • Creating or maintaining a nuisance (where knowledge that premises were used for prostitution is not necessary)
  • Fornication
  • Incest (when a result of a marital status prohibited by law)
  • Involuntary manslaughter (when killing is not the result of recklessness)
  • Libel
  • Mailing an obscene letter
  • Mann Act violations (where coercion is not present)
  • Riot
  • Suicide (attempted)
  • Attempts, Aiding and Abetting, Accessories and Conspiracy

    • An attempt to commit a crime deemed to involve moral turpitude
    • Aiding and abetting in the commission of a crime deemed to involve moral turpitude
    • Being an accessory (before or after the fact) in the commission of a crime deemed to involve moral turpitude
    • Taking part in a conspiracy (or attempting to take part in a conspiracy) to commit a crime involving moral turpitude where the attempted crime would not itself constitute moral turpitude.

    From the United States Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual


    In March 2008, British author Sebastian Horsley was refused entry into the United States, after arriving at Newark Airport for a book tour. Customs denied his entry claiming issues of moral turpitude. " who have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (which includes controlled-substance violations) or admit to previously having a drug addiction are not admissible..." said customs spokeswoman, Lucille Cirillo. After eight hours of questioning, he was placed on a plane and sent back to London. Horsley had told the Associated Press that he had prepared for the visit; his one concession: removing his nail polish.

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