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Crimes Involving “Moral Turpitude” in California Law

Posted by Sam Israels | Nov 22, 2019

A crime involving moral turpitude is described as an offense of serious dishonesty, fraud, or conduct that would shock a reasonable person. The distinction is often important for a defendant who is attempting to decide whether to accept a plea bargain, or take their case to trial.

This is especially true when they are potentially facing serious collateral consequences, such as immigration issues or they might lose a professional license, such as a medical, legal, or real estate.

Any conviction for a crime of moral turpitude could also be used to impeach your credibility in a legal proceeding. Some, like anyone in a law enforcement profession are often sought to testify in court and have to consider whether a moral turpitude crime conviction will have a negative impact on their employment.

A crime involving moral turpitude is not a specific offense by itself – but it's a type of classification associated to a crime. It means if you're facing a crime classified as a crime of moral turpitude, you could potentially face additional or collateral consequences.

California law doesn't specifically define a crime of moral turpitude crime – but it's basically described as a crime involving conduct of dishonestly, fraud, or morally reprehensible.

In order for a criminal court judge or jury to classify a crime involving moral turpitude, they are given the specific details and evidence of you case. Then, they are asked to make a decision whether your conduct was so egregious, your crime should be placed in the classification as a crime of moral turpitude.

It should be noted there is another crucial factor that is considered in order to determine if your case involves a crime of moral turpitude – which is they are normally intent crimes.

This simply means that the elements of the crime have some form of criminal intent. Remember, a crime of moral turpitude is described as a something morally reprehensible – not just bad judgment or a mistake.

Crimes Shocking the Conscience

Crimes of moral turpitude are offenses involving serious fraud, deceit, lying, or “shock the conscience.” Since there is no specific definition, we are just left with a general one. This means there is frequent court debate and disagreement of what exact crimes are considered those of moral turpitude.

Obviously, misdemeanor drug possession cases are not a crime involving moral turpitude. However, first-degree murder case and other serious assault crimes will usually always be considered a crime of moral turpitude. There are California crimes that are generally classified as involving moral turpitude:

Penal Code 288 – Lewd acts on a minor
Penal Code 261 – Rape
Penal Code 290 – Failing to register as sex offender
Penal Code 273.5 – Corporal injury to spouse (felony)
Penal Code 273d – Child abuse
Penal Code 422 – Criminal threats
Penal Code 211 – Robbery
Penal Code 459 – Burglary
Penal Code 496 – Receiving stolen property
Penal Code 187 – Murder
Penal Code 451 – Arson
Penal Code 209 – Aggravated kidnapping
Penal Code 487 – Grand theft auto
Penal Code 29800 – Felon in possession of firearm
Penal Code 601 – Aggravated trespassing
Penal Code 192 – Voluntary manslaughter
Penal Code 118 – Perjury
Health & Safety Code 11351 – Drug possession for sales
Vehicle Code 20001 – Felony Hit and Run
Welfare & Institutions Code 10980 – Welfare fraud

Again, it's important to note that a crime involving moral turpitude is almost always an intent crime – meaning there has to be some type of criminal intent.

There are often disagreements in border line cases about whether the behavior is harmful to the general public and rises to the level of “shocking the conscience.”

Different courts will have different opinions, but there is a general agreement that moral turpitude implies intention wrongful conduct. Statutes that require knowledge of willful conduct have a better chance of be classified as crimes of moral turpitude.

Immigration Consequences

Federal courts often get involved with crimes of moral turpitude related to immigration consequences. They use an analytical framework known as the “categorical approach” – where they review the elements of the crime required for a conviction.

The specific facts of the case are not reviewed, rather the federal court only review what facts the jury found to obtain a conviction for a specific statute. Based on this information, they will determine whether it meets the standard for moral turpitude.

United States immigration law states certain types of criminal convictions for a crime of moral turpitude can lead to deportation of an undocumented immigrant, or they could be deemed inadmissible.

An undocumented immigrant can be deported if convicted for a crime of moral turpitude, receives a jail sentence for over one year, and the conviction occurs within 5 years of being admitted to the United States.

Professional License Consequences

We often receive questions regarding crime of moral turpitude related to those holding a professional license. Many professions require a license; such as doctors or teachers, and a conviction for a moral turpitude crime can result in adverse consequences.

In fact, it's common for professional boards to suspend or revoke a professional license for anyone convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. Obviously, this could dramatically impact their livelihood.

Most California professional licensing boards draw a red line for criminal convictions that do and don't involve moral turpitude.

These distinctions often include a requirement to self-report when they are arrested or convicted. The level of discipline imposed can include a loss of license.

Impeachment of Witness

If you are convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude, it will limit your effectiveness as a reliable witness. Let's say you are called to be a witness in any type of legal proceeding.

If the opposing lawyer discovers you have a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude, they will use this information to discredit your credibility as a witness.

This is referred to as the impeachment of a witness - where your criminal history is used to persuade a jury your testimony can't be believed.

Even a misdemeanor conviction for conduct considered a crime of moral turpitude can be used to impeach a witness. Jurors normally distrust witness testimony from those convicted of a moral turpitude crime – especially in a conviction involving some type of dishonestly.

Accused of crime that might be considered a crime of moral turpitude? You are potentially facing life-changing consequences if convicted.

Contact our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers to review all the details of your case and to discuss legal options to have the best chance at a favorable outcome.

We serve clients throughout Southern California, including the greater Los Angeles County and the San Fernando Valley. We need to first look at your case in order to determine an appropriate strategy. We are a criminal defense law firm with a record of success in all types of misdemeanor or felony charges. We offer a free case evaluation.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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