Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) is an odd and arcane term. They are also a bit difficult to define and there are a number of court cases doing just that. They can -and more times than not do – have serious consequences on immigration status for any and all immigrants.
An individual convicted of a crime that qualifies as a CIMT is usually going to face possible deportation or found inadmissible after leaving the United States and trying to enter the United States on their return.
The technical definition of a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) is a crime that involves “conduct that 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.” This is again very vague and odd language. Put another way, a CIMT shows a significant depravity of character. This is a broad definition, but when applied to actual cases, courts often have trouble defining what a CIMT is with any level of certainty. This is one of many reasons why you need an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney to fully analyze the allegations or criminal conviction to then ascertain how, if at all, they fall within the parameters of a CIMT. Pleading guilty to virtually any crime may put your immigration future in serious jeopardy. And, unfortunately many if not most criminal lawyers are not aware of the immigration consequences of most crimes.
At first glance, it sounds like only really bad crimes would constitute “depravity” and therefore be considered a CIMT, such as murder, aggravated assault, child abuse and sexual assault. But other crimes that may seem less serious, such as carrying a concealed weapon and shoplifting, can also be considered a CIMT. Basically, each situation will have to be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine how a specific conviction or crime will be classified.
However, crimes such as the violation of government regulations, simple assault and disorderly conduct will usually not be considered a CIMT for immigration purposes. This is no always apparent and or logical.
The exact immigration consequences of a CIMT conviction or arrest depend on several factors. These include any prior CIMT convictions or arrests, when the conviction or arrest occurred, the age of the individual at conviction and the length of the potential criminal sentence.
For example, if an individual has two CIMT convictions that occurred any time after entering the United States, they are subject to removal. However, if the two CIMT convictions arise out of the same underlying criminal conduct, then from an immigration standpoint, the individual will have only one CIMT conviction. Again, this is something to fully vet with both your criminal lawyer and immigration attorney.
Removal is also possible if there is only one conviction for a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude. If the conviction occurred within five years of date of entering the United States and the conviction results in a potential criminal sentence lasting one year or more, then removal is possible. And it doesn’t matter how long a sentence the individual actually serves; all that matters is the length of the potential sentence.
There are two primary exceptions to the immigration consequences of a CIMT conviction. The first is the petty offense exception. If an individual has just one CIMT conviction, with an accompanying sentence lasting six months or less (and the maximum possible sentence was a year or less), then the individual may be eligible for the petty offense exception. This is very often a misdemeanor.
The bottom line is that you need to be very careful before you plead guilty to any crime, even if it seems minor. In addition, if you already have convictions be very cautious about leaving the United States, even if you’ve traveled before. Border Patrol often doesn’t spot past convictions, however when they do, they can be unforgiving. Remember that an immigration attorney is vital to your pursuit to maintain your legal status in the United States.