Well, you found yourself in immigration proceedings because of those shoplifting charges. They said you committed something called a “Crime Involving Moral Turpitude” (CIMT) and that you were removable (deportable). You don’t understand… didn’t you do your time for that crime? Yeah, the judge warned you that there might be immigration consequences, but you basically pleaded guilty in exchange for no jail time… your defense attorney told you that wouldn’t be a problem! And yet, here you are, in immigration court defending your right to stay in the United States.
Please note that what’s written below only touches the surface of the topic of Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude. I am not advising you on what is or what is not a CIMT, and none of what is below should be taken as advice as to what to plead to if you are in criminal proceedings. The point of this post is to explain that there are a lot of complexities regarding CIMTs, criminal dispositions and plea bargains, and you should make sure you or your criminal defense attorney is aware of the possible immigration effects of your crime.
If you have questions about whether your crime is a crime involving moral turpitude and want to ask an immigration attorney about it, contact Law Offices of Jacob D. Geller at 781-462-1346.
Oops. This is not an uncommon situation. The immigration laws are downright medieval when it comes to crimes. But the big question is what exactly is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude exactly? And why would it have helped if you had known before you made that plea bargain? Here’s the bad news: there is no specific definition of what a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude is, but there have been a lot of cases that have discussed it, and there are certain crimes that have been ruled to clearly be CIMTs. Also, it doesn’t matter if you have a conviction under immigration law if an admission to the elements of the crime has been made (although what constitutes an admission is another issue).
Now, a bit of the law that has been used to define a CIMT. A CIMT has been defined as “an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity, in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow man or to society.” S. Rpt. No. 1515 (1950). The Board of Immigration Appeals defines it as a crime that “refers generally to conduct which is inherently base, vile, or depraved, and contrary to the accepted rulse of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general… Moral turpitude has been defined as an act which is 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.” Matter of Franklin, 20 I&N Dec. 867, 868 (BIA 1994) [emphasis added]. The Attorney General notes that a CIMT involves “both reprehensible conduct and some degree of scienter [knowledge], whether specific intent, deliberateness, willfulness, or recklessness.” Matter of Silva-Trevino, 24 I&N Dec. 687, 689 n.1 and 706 n.5 (AG 2008).
What does this mean to you? Probably not much. What it does tell courts is that the usual crimes one would expect, murder, rape, kidnapping, voluntary manslaughter, and robbery are clearly CIMTs. Further, courts have basically decided that anything with fraud or theft involved is a per se CIMT. Drug possession is generally not considered a CIMT, but intent to distribute is likely considered a CIMT (although, a conviction for distribution is a lot worse than just a CIMT).
The biggest issue I see here in Massachusetts is where the client has been given what’s called a Continued Without a Finding, or CWOF for a CIMT. A CWOF in Massachusetts is almost always considered a guilty finding for the sake of immigration. And since the actual penalty for a CIMT is not a consideration in whether or not it is a CIMT, just because you don’t spend any time in jail doesn’t change anything. So it’s important to understand both whether the crime is a CIMT and whether the plea you make is going to be considered by immigration as a conviction.
As mentioned, this only touches the surface of a discussion on CIMTs. A full analysis can, and has, filled books. The moral of the story is: if you’re not sure about whether the crime for which you may be convicted may be a CIMT, contact an immigration attorney.