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Crimes of moral turpitude: Immigrants need a strong defense

There are certain crimes that, if committed by a non-immigrant, are generally considered fairly minor from the legal standpoint. However, if an immigrant commits the same crime, it could be grounds for deportation. If you're an immigrant, this is what you should know.

The offenses we're discussing are those that fall under a somewhat vague term, called "crimes of moral turpitude." While pretty much any crime -- even murder -- has an aspect of immorality to it, crimes of moral turpitude are often relatively low-level crimes, even though some of them may be felonies.

For example, any sex-related offense from indecent exposure (which could be as minor as relieving yourself in an alley behind a bar at the wrong time) to prostitution is generally considered a crime of moral turpitude. So are crimes like petty theft, forgery, passing a bad check and drug possession.

It's also important to understand that you don't have to be convicted of a crime of moral turpitude for it to affect your ability to stay in the United States:

-- For the purposes of immigration, a plea of "no contest" is the same as an admission of guilt.

-- Deferred adjudication of a case is also the same as a conviction for immigration purposes. In other words, if a judge sentences a you to a treatment program for addiction and defers the sentence with the idea of vacating the charge if you're successful at treatment, immigration still considers that a finding of guilt.

Complicating issues even further, exactly how your criminal conviction can affect you varies depending on your exact legal status. For example, a legal permanent resident, if not deported, could still lose the ability to become a naturalized citizen forever. A refugee may end up deported for the same crime or lose the ability to become a legal permanent resident. A non-citizen here on a temporary visa would likely be deported for any felony or two misdemeanor convictions.

That makes it particularly important to have a strong criminal defense attorney helping you from the start. For more information on how our firm handles criminal charges and works to defend you against deportation, please visit our page.

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