Area of Law: USA Travel and Immigration
Answer # 1122
What is a 'Crime Involving Moral Turpitude' (CIMT) ?Region: Ontario Answer # 1122
There is no statutory definition or definitive list of what constitutes a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) in the USA.
In fact, the American courts have made inconsistent determinations for some crimes. For example, over time, impaired driving offences have been found to be both crimes involving and not involving moral turpitude. Such inconsistency causes much confusion in nailing down what crimes would render someone inadmissible to the USA. In one decision, the USA Board of Immigration Appeals stated that “moral turpitude refers generally to conduct that shocks the public conscience as being inherently base, vile or depraved, contrary to the rules of morality and the duties owed between man and man, either one’s fellow man or society in general. Moral turpitude has been defined as an act which is per se morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong … so it is the nature of the act itself and not the statutory prohibition of it which renders a crime one of moral turpitude.”
This type of statement does not clear up the problem. Over time, people have tried to review the large volume of decisions from American administrative bodies and the courts, and from these decisions draw conclusions about which crimes would render someone inadmissible to the USA. Unfortunately, for practical purposes, this does not really work either because neither the seriousness of the offence nor the severity of the punishment will determine whether a crime is a CIMT. Rather, it is also a question of the offender’s intent. American law says that if a crime was comprised of an element of specific and malicious intent (or such negligence and reckless conduct that it would be regarded by law as equivalent to such intent) on the part of the offender, then it will be a CIMT. If this wasn’t confusing enough, being convicted of conspiring or attempting to commit a CIMT also counts, as do convictions for aiding and abetting or being an accessory in the commission of a CIMT. In reality, no one can be sure what crimes will be considered a CIMT at any given time. The American Immigration department reserves the right to change its policies.
When someone who has a Canadian criminal record arrives at an American border, a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer does not have the time to analyze the criminal offences with respect to their inherent properties, understand the individual’s intent with respect to whether that falls within the CIMT category, and finally determine whether the crimes involve moral turpitude. When making timely decisions at the border and given the complexity in determining if a crime is a CIMT, it is impossible to expect a CBP officer to know with certainty what crimes involve moral turpitude. That is why CBP officers err on the side of safety.
What almost always happens is CBP officers turn away everyone with a Fingerprint Section number, even though a large number of these people have not committed a crime that would make them inadmissible. Even in cases where people have brought all the appropriate court documents with them, proving that the charges were thrown out of court, the CBP officer will often refuse them entry. At the very least, these people will experience delays and uncertainties at the border. This can be very humiliating and humbling, and if travelling by air, it is not uncommon for the individual to miss his or her flight.
For practical purposes, people with criminal records who want to enter the USA legally and with as few problems as possible should submit a formal USA Entry Waiver application.
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