The two main categories of crimes that we talk about in immigration law are aggravated felonies and something called crimes involving moral turpitude. We’ll take that one first. Crimes involving moral turpitude make someone inadmissible. If you have two of them, even if you have a green card, a permanent residence in the United States, you can be put into detention and held and then eventually deported unless you qualify for one of the labels.
A Crime of Moral Turpitude Is Described as a Crime Having Evil Intent
A crime involving moral turpitude is essentially a crime that I think the law describes as having some evil intent or something along those lines. The way I like to explain it to my clients is regardless of your age, education or culture; those crimes involving moral turpitude are crimes no matter what. You don’t have to have an education or be able to read or write or come from the United States to know that stealing is wrong, so all theft crimes fall into crimes involving moral turpitude.
The sex crimes do also have that label. But some of the sex crimes also end up being aggravated felonies. A crime that sometimes people don’t take very seriously is shoplifting. Maybe there are many people who were arrested as a teenager. At some stores, the police will show up. If it’s a small amount of retail goods, they’ll basically issue what looks like a ticket, and so individuals think, “Oh, it is a little crime. I was wrong, but it’s such a little crime.”
It’s a theft crime and, therefore, it’s something that could impact their immigration status because it is a crime involving moral turpitude.
How many young teenage boys have been caught driving around in somebody’s car? They really are not intending to steal it but they’re joyriding. That also could be construed as a type of theft crime and a crime involving moral turpitude.
Foreign Nationals Should Consult with a Criminal Attorney and an Immigration Attorney When Accused of an Offense That Can Be Construed as a Crime of Moral Turpitude
Interviewer: What about passing a bad check?
Jeanne Morales: It could be depending on how it is looked at in the state that is prosecuted the offense. That’s why it’s so important not just to get someone who could help you with the criminal matter. It’s important to have that criminal attorney counsel with an immigration attorney.
This is because if there is a crime that you’ve been accused of and you, in your plea bargaining, could plead guilty to crime A or crime B, the skill is in making sure that the crime that you do plead guilty is one that won’t affect you. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that, but fraud-type crimes are also crimes involving moral turpitude.
The thing that trips most people up on that is theft-type crimes can encompass a wide variety of offenses. I have had to defend people who, like you said, passed a bad check. I’ve had to defend people who thought they were picking up scrap metal. The owner called the police and they were charged in California with grand theft, and that is a crime involving moral turpitude.
Since they got probation and paid the fine and went on about their way, they thought it was a minor crime and did not have any relationship to immigration law.
The second group of crimes that is important is something called aggravated felonies. Now, in criminal law, there’s a definition for misdemeanor. There’s a definition for felony, and usually in criminal law, an aggravated felony is a felony that has got some circumstances associated with it that makes it worse.
The Use of a Weapon in a Crime Will Be Charged as an Aggravated Felony
There’s theft where you steal something that nobody’s around or robbery where you use gun and confront someone to steal their property, and that could conceivably have somebody get hurt, and so that would be not only robbery but perhaps maybe even aggravated robbery depending on the jurisdiction.
The same premise applies to assault. Two men in a bar throwing a couple punches might be assault. One of them reaches and gets a pool cue and that may now be aggravated assault because they used a weapon. That’s not what we’re talking about in the immigration law. Immigration law has a specific, defined characteristic of something called an aggravated felony, and it can even be a misdemeanor under state law.
Money Laundering Is Considered an Aggravated Felony under Immigration Law
Now, most aggravated felonies are actually listed in immigration law, and ones that you would expect to find there would be murder and rape and kidnapping and child pornography. Also in the list is money laundering.
Taking money from one bank account and put it in another bank account to hide it from the authorities can be a deportable offense. Smuggling aliens can also be an aggravated felony. Altering a U.S. passport or visa, bail jumping, those are all offenses charged as an aggravated felony. Trafficking drugs is now aggravated felony.
Evading Arrest and Evading Arrest by Vehicle
The drugs, the murder, rape is pretty understandable to most people, but here’s a situation that one of my clients saw themselves in. Texas law has evading arrest and evading arrest by vehicle. Now, in evading arrest, you could just not stop exactly when the police tell you to stop. You’re walking, the officer says stop, you take two extra steps, and he could write you up for evading arrest.
Evading arrest by vehicle is the same thing. Now, we all have seen police chases on TV where there are three or four police officers chasing somebody in the car. That can be quite dangerous, but merely taking an extra half a block to pull over could also be looked at by the law officer as evading arrest. Since you did it in a vehicle, then it gets bumped up by evading arrest by vehicle.
I’ve even handled cases where the evading arrest was nothing more than the accused sitting in his car, which was parked. He saw an officer go by and he turned off his lights, and he was charged with evading arrest by vehicle. Now, in Texas, that’s a state jail felony.
It’s the lowest level of felony we have. But the immigration law in the Fifth Circuit has designated that as being a violent felony. The reason they call it a violent felony is when the judges see it, they’re always thinking about the car chase on TV where cars are crashed into and people get injured.