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What is Moral Turpitude?

What is Moral Turpitude?

What does moral turpitude mean, and what actions qualify under it? This article lets you in on the complete legal implications of this term.
Ishani Chatterjee Shukla
Moral Turpitude Explained
The term moral turpitude has been coined using two separate words―moral and turpitude―together. As we all know, moral, as an adjective, refers to something―be it an act or a thought―that traces its genesis from the deep-rooted conscience or the mind's sense of what is right and what isn't. Turpitude means any act that is vile, depraved, shameful or base in nature. Used together, therefore, the literal meaning of moral turpitude stands as an immoral act that has been committed in full knowledge of such an act being wrong in the light of human conscience and social justice. This term also represents a legal concept, which identifies various offenses and crimes that qualify as punishable under the law.

What Offenses Come Within its Ambit?
As discussed above, the definition of moral turpitude leaves much room for debate and speculation. However, the United States' legal framework identifies the following offenses and criminal acts that qualify as moral turpitude. Take a look to understand the entire scope of this category of offenses, as suggested by the US legislation.

Category #1: Crimes Against Property
  • Deliberate misrepresentation of facts
  • Reliance on such misrepresentation by the defrauded individual
  • An act which is committed with a clear intention to defraud another
  • Fraudulent activities
  • Arson
  • Burglary
  • Embezzlement
  • Blackmail
  • Extortion
  • Forgery
  • False pretenses
  • Deliberate destruction of property with malicious intent
  • Larceny
  • Accepting or transporting goods or property that have been procured via illegal means, despite being aware of the illegal nature of their procurement
  • Theft
  • Robbery
Category #2: Crimes Committed Against Governmental Authority
  • Fraudulent acts committed against or in order to evade government departments and functions
  • Counterfeiting
  • Bribing or attempting to bribe
  • Sheltering a fugitive in order to help such a person evade the law
  • Perjury
  • Mail fraud
  • Willful evasion of taxes
Category #3: Crimes Committed Against Person, Family Relationship, and Sexual Morality
  • Willful abandonment of a minor resulting in the destitution of such minor
  • Assault with a deadly weapon and/or with an intent to kill, rape, rob or cause grave physical injury
  • Adultery
  • Bigamy
  • Murder
  • Manslaughter (involuntary manslaughter which is proved by a conscious disregard for following precautionary steps that could have averted the situation also amounts as a moral turpitude)
  • Rape (includes Statutory Rape)
  • Prostitution
  • Mayhem
  • Pandering
Category #4: Attempts, Aiding and Abetting, Accessories and Conspiracy
  • Any attempt or effort directed towards an act which comes under the scope of moral turpitude
  • Lending direct or indirect assistance to such an attempt, and acting as a conscious aide to the person who commits or attempts to commit the act
  • Acting as a partner-in-crime to one who commits a criminal act
  • Consciously participating in a conspiracy which is undertaken to plan a crime, whether or not the crime itself results in a moral turpitude
Therefore, as can be understood from the above discussion, a moral turpitude is any intent, act or conduct which goes against the conscientious norms of public morals. These acts and conducts are usually committed in complete awareness of their immoral nature and unpleasant consequences, and are, as such, violations of societal as well as legal standards of morality. Any person who has even a single history of moral turpitude registered against his/her name is subject to lifelong loss of reputation, as well as a limitation on his/her legal freedom in many aspects, such as immigration procedures, occupational and professional credibility, etc. This is the reason behind criminal background checks being such an important part of the hiring process these days.