What Are Crimes of Moral Turpitude in California?

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When someone refers to crimes of “moral turpitude,” they are often talking about crimes based on dishonest or deceitful acts.

The moral turpitude meaning is much broader than that, as it includes crimes that are vile or so depraved that the act shocks the conscience of an ordinary, reasonable person. 

As with any crime, a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude could lead to incarceration.

So if you are facing such charges, you need a lawyer who is not afraid of rising to meet the challenge.

San Diego defense attorney Kerry L. Armstrong and his team with the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, are ready to help. Contact us online or call 619-598-1703.

What Is a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

California does not have a particular statute that defines crimes of moral turpitude.

Similarly, there are no official crimes of moral turpitude in California that are listed out and published for the public.

However, here is a list of some crimes that are commonly believed to involve moral turpitude:

However, this is certainly not an exhaustive list. 

In a decision from the Supreme Court of California, the court said that a crime involving moral turpitude includes crimes that are “extremely repugnant to accepted moral standards.” 

The California Supreme Court has also said that crimes of moral turpitude show the person is ready to “do evil.” 

Of course, the moral standards of our country are evolving, or at least disputed.

Changing ethical standards make defining moral turpitude more precisely almost impossible.

And the facts of the case also dictate whether a crime involves moral turpitude.

Therefore, if it is not clear, courts may consider whether a crime involves moral turpitude on a case-by-case basis.  

What Does Federal Law Say About Crimes of Moral Turpitude?

The concept of crimes of moral turpitude is vital in federal courts—and it is particularly crucial in immigration cases.

The United States government can deport a non-citizen and exclude them from citizenship consideration based on a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude. 

The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) states that a crime involving moral turpitude refers to an offense that shocks the public conscience as being “base, vile, separated, contrary to the rules of morality and duties owed to each other as human beings.”

Crime of Moral Turpitude Example

Many crimes have an element of evil or malicious intent. Deliberate, premeditated murder is one such crime.

However, manslaughter might not be.

Rape or other sexual assault, armed robbery, forgery, arson, perjury, felony hit-and-run, and welfare fraud are a few examples of crimes that likely involve moral turpitude. 

But keep in mind that negligence or a mistake does not rise to the level of a crime.

So all of these crimes require proof of intent before courts assume they reveal that the person’s character lacks morality.  

Why Does it Matter if Your Charges Fall Within the Moral Turpitude Meaning?

Having a conviction for a charge involving moral turpitude can be a massive problem for many people.

A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude signals to others that you are either a bad person or cannot be trusted. When does that come up?

In Court

California courts will often let an attorney bring up your conviction for a crime of moral turpitude during a trial.

So suppose you suffer legitimate injuries in a car accident, and the case goes to trial. You decide to testify. 

The other side could argue to the jury that your conviction or conduct reveals the fact that you cannot and should not be trusted.

You might be telling the truth, but it does not matter—and you could lose even if you should not.  

Immigration Problems

We touched on the potential immigration problems you might experience if you have a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude.

You could get deported, or the United States government could deny your petition to become a citizen. 

Professional Licensing

Many people need a license for their work.

Lawyers, doctors, accountants, mechanics, hair stylists, and many other professionals must have a license before they can serve the public.

The boards that oversee licensing often make people report criminal charges and convictions.

A conviction for a crime of moral turpitude could, and often does, result in license suspension or the complete loss of a professional license. 

Contact a San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer Today for Help

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, has the experience, resources, and personal commitment you need to help avoid a conviction.

When you call us at 619-598-1703, you will get superior service, support, and access to a board-certified legal specialist in criminal law.

Contact us right now to speak with our award-winning San Diego criminal defense attorneys today. 

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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