What are Crimes of Moral Turpitude and How Can They Affect a Non-Citizen Defendant's Immigration Status?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 06, 2020 | 0 Comments

In a recent blog post, we summarized the types of collateral consequences of a criminal conviction in Pennsylvania. One of them is the possibility that a defendant who is not a U.S. citizen can get deported if they get convicted of certain offenses.

One of the most important types of criminal offenses that can lead to deportation is a “crime of moral turpitude.”

Types of Crimes that Can Lead to Deportation

Whether a criminal conviction can lead to deportation is actually an immigration law issue, not a criminal defense issue. However, because it comes up so often in criminal defense cases and because it can be one of the most important consequences of a conviction, criminal defense attorneys have to be familiar with how it works.

Because immigration law is federal, rather than state, law, it is 8 USC § 1227 that lists the types of criminal offenses that make a defendant deportable. That statute is a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and lists the following types of offenses:

Unfortunately, the Act does not simply list specific offenses. This is partially due to the fact that it is a federal law, while most crimes are state laws. Because of the crossover from federal to state law, there can be a serious dispute over whether a particular criminal charge under state law could make a defendant deportable under federal immigration law.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude

One of the most important types of crime that can lead to deportation is a “crime of moral turpitude.” To be potentially deportable offenses, a conviction has to be:

  • Within five years of entering the U.S. (or 10 years if the defendant has lawful permanent resident status), and
  • Punishable with over a year in jail.

What constitutes an offense of “moral turpitude,” though, is not always clear. Factors include whether the crime involved:

  • Violence
  • Intent to harm someone
  • Fraud
  • Theft

This makes some offenses clear crimes of moral turpitude, like theft, burglaryassault, or rape. However, offenses like driving under the influence (DUI) fall into a gray area. Prosecutors often try portraying the decision to drive while under the influence of alcohol as a reckless act that amounts to a sufficient intent to harm someone to justify deportation.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento

Whether a criminal charge can lead to the defendant's deportation can drastically alter how to best respond. Non-citizens with families in the U.S. and strong ties to their communities usually have a much stronger urge to take their case to trial rather than enter into a plea deal that could keep them out of jail, but end with their deportation.

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who serves the accused in Philadelphia. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 if you have been accused of committing a crime and are concerned that your immigration status might get caught up in the affair.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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