What is Moral Turpitude?
How do you legally define it?
What’s important to know?
In this article, I will break down the definition of Moral Turpitude so you know all there is to know about it!
Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!
Let me explain to you what moral turpitude means so you know it once and for all!
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Table of Contents
What Is Moral Turpitude
Moral turpitude is a phrase used in law to refer to conduct or behavior that is unethical, immoral, or that is so deviant from social standards that it would shock others.
In other words, when a person acts in a way that violates the accepted standards of a community or that shocks their sentiment, that act can be qualified as moral turpitude.
For example, rape, robbery, incest, fraud, or other crimes can be acts of moral turpitude.
“Moral turpitude” is not expressly defined by the law or courts as the notion of morality and moral standard can vary from one community to another or at different points in time.
Let’s look at the most commonly cited legal definition of moral turpitude to see what it means.
Moral Turpitude Legal Definition
What is the legal definition of moral turpitude?
In the United States, you cannot find a clearcut answer on the legal definition of moral turpitude.
However, in criminal law, in the case United States vs Zimmerman, the court defined moral turpitude as follows:
Moral turpitude is evidenced by an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which according to the accepted standards of the time a man owes to his fellowman or to society in general
The court’s definition of moral turpitude consists of:
- An act of baseness, vileness or depravity
- In the private and social duties
- A man owes to his fellowman or to society in general
- According to the accepted standards
Moral Turpitude Consequences
What are the consequences of acting in a way that society considers it to be an act of moral turpitude?
Being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude or acting in a way that shocks the community can lead to serious consequences depending on the context.
For example, crimes of moral turpitude can result in the loss of a person’s professional license needed to practice a trade.
Also, in contract law, a moral turpitude clause can result in the termination of the contract or loss of sponsorship.
In US immigration law, an applicant who was convicted and found guilty of a crime involving moral turpitude may be denied to immigrate to the country.
In employment, a person having been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude may have a much harder time finding a job depending on the nature of the employment.
Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude
What are a few examples of moral turpitude crimes?
In the US immigration law, it’s useful to have a definition of moral turpitude and have a list of offenses that can be considered as such for immigration purposes.
Crimes involving moral turpitude can be classified into different categories, such as:
- Crimes against property like fraud (making false representations, intent to defraud, the actual act of committing fraud, reliance on false representation by the person defrauded etc) or crimes having evil intent (arson, blackmail, embezzlement, forgery, larceny, extortion, malicious destruction of property, theft, bullying)
- Crimes against the governmental authority (bribery, counterfeiting, mail and wire fraud, perjury, tax evasion)
- Crimes against a person, family relationship, and sexual morality (abandonment, adultery, bigamy, gross indecency, lawdness, murder, pandering, prostitution, rape)
- Attemps, aiding, and abetting, accessories and conspiracy (attempt to commit crime deemed involving moral turpitude, being an accessory to said crime)
Here is a list of crimes that involve moral turpitude:
- Abandonment of a minor child
- Assault with a dangerous or deadly weapon
- Assault with intent to kill, commit rape, commit robbery or commit serious bodily harm
- Contributing to the delinquency of a minor
- False pretenses
- Fraud against revenue or other government functions
- Gross indecency
- Harboring a fugitive from justice
- Involuntary Manslaughter
- Knowingly receiving stolen goods
- Mail and wire fraud
- Malicious destruction of property
- Paternity fraud
- Tax evasion
- Transporting stolen property
- Voluntary Manslaughter
Moral Turpitude Example
Let’s look at a few examples to better understand moral turpitude meaning.
Moral Turpitude Criminal Law
In criminal law, the courts do not expressly define the notion of “moral turpitude” as the notion of morality can evolve over time and there may be different views on morality.
In the case United States v. Zimmerman, the court described conduct that involves moral turpitude as follows:
An act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.
This is the most commonly quoted case law referring to the notion of moral turpitude in criminal law.
Moral Turpitude Legal Ethics
Another example of moral turpitude that can be considered is in legal ethics.
For example, an attorney that acts in a way that may be qualified as an act of moral turpitude may face sanctions from the state Bar or even be disbarred.
Since the public needs to have faith and trust in lawyers and how they represent clients, lawyers are bound to strict rules and must observe strict ethical guidelines.
An act of moral turpitude can result in an attorney being deemed as “unfit” to practice law and represent clients.
Moral Turpitude Takeaways
So there you have it folks!
What does moral turpitude mean in simple terms?
How do you define moral turpitude?
In legal terms, “moral turpitude” refers to an act or behavior that violates the sentiment of a community or does not fit the accepted standards of that community.
Even though the notion of moral turpitude is not expressly defined, the most common definition used is that provided by the courts in United States v. Zimmerman stating that it’s an “act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man”.
In criminal law, some crimes can be classified as crimes involving moral turpitude and crimes not involving moral turpitude.
There may be serious consequences to acts or conduct that may shock the social sentiment or be considered as involving moral turpitude.
If you are charged with a crime, are facing financial or other types of consequences relating to crimes of moral turpitude, you should immediately consult with a qualified criminal attorney to provide you guidance.
Good luck with your investigation!
Now, let’s look at a summary of our findings.
Moral Turpitude Meaning
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