What is Good Moral Character?

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  • Written By: M. Lupica
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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The legal concept of good moral character is a construct currently used in United States (US) law to authorize the designee as fit for a particular purpose. Typically a person loses this status if he or she commits a crime of moral turpitude — i.e., a crime that indicates a lack of morality in the person. Though the moral character classification has limited legal use, it is often a determining factor in deciding whether or not to grant US citizenship to an alien applicant. It is also used as a determining factor in granting certain professional licenses.

In order to qualify as having good moral character, a person may not have committed crimes involving what is called “moral turpitude.” Acts of moral turpitude are characterized by depravity and are a likely indication that the actor is devoid of a sense of morality. Generally speaking, any crimes of dishonesty such as fraud, theft, and tax evasion are considered acts of moral turpitude. Also included in this category of crimes is illegal trafficking of controlled substances, failure to appear in court, and any crimes involving national security.


Good moral character is a primary requirement for admission to the United States as a citizen. If an applicant has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, including both crimes of dishonesty and controlled substance violations, he or she will typically be denied US citizenship. Though convictions will typically prevent such granting of citizenship, simply being arrested for a crime of moral turpitude will not bar the applicant. Further, if the circumstances surrounding the crime include simply a petty offense such as a minor drug possession charge, the application for citizenship may still be considered in some cases.

Another area where good moral character is determinative in US law is in granting the license to practice law. Though the license to practice law is governed entirely by the state in which the license is granted, every state’s prerequisites for admittance to practice law have a good moral character requirement. The rationale behind such a requirement is the nature of law practice in which clients are required to put a lot of faith in the character of the attorney who is rendering advice. Even after admittance to practice law in a particular state, attorneys are required to maintain their good moral character or face the possibility of disbarment — the retraction of the right to practice law — or other sanctions.


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Post 6

I think having this, some sort of "good moral character" test is a wonderful thing. And I think this practice should be extended to all professions.

I remember when I was in university, there was a boy in one of my classes. He wished to become a physician. However, once I overheard a conversation between him and some other dude. The dude was saying how some people wanted to save the life of a cat. Then this boy said, "Who cares about the cat? Just kill the cat". I was utterly repulsed. And to think, someone like him might become a doctor, whom a lot of people trust and look up to and respect. It just sickens me.

Post 5

@Cupcake15 - I agree and I have to say that with respect to the naturalization act, people that are looking to become potential citizens of the United States should also have an affidavit of good moral character.

This is why they usually have to have a sponsor in the country that will vouch for the person’s character. It is really a privilege to be a citizen of a country and most countries try to make sure that you will not cause trouble in their country which is why they look at the person’s criminal history.

In some countries, they also look for financial stability and try to make sure that the person has a steady government pension from their former country or enough investments that they will not be a burden to the new country that they are seeking citizenship with. Both are important considerations, but the United States usually only considers moral character when granting citizenship.

Post 4

@Ysmina- I think that having a good moral character is important for becoming a lawyer. I know that there have been practicing lawyers that were once barred from receiving their law license because of moral character issues.

For example, Jose Baez, the famous Casey Anthony attorney was not admitted to the bar when he initially applied because he owed child support to his ex wife. Apparently he did not pay for his children’s health insurance, so he waited about ten years to change his life and reapply to the bar.

He got admitted the second time and was really only practicing for a few years before taking on the Anthony case. In fact, this was his first murder

trial that he ever had. So I think that if you show that you have changed your ways you can have a second chance with the bar.

I do think that lawyers as officers of the court should really uphold a good moral character because of the nature of their work. They would lose credibility if they didn’t.

Post 3

@burcidi-- Those are good questions!

I think that what the officials pay attention to depends on the applicant's present and past behavior and all of their criminal background if they have one.

I have heard of someone who has been denied citizenship because they drove without a license and was arrested for it. But this actually happened after she took her exam and before she took the oath. I know that this period is really important and any criminal activity while you are in the process of naturalization is going to prevent you from getting it.

But that's not the only time period they pay attention to. They look at your entire background- basically your whole life whether that was in the US or outside of the US. The naturalization officials want to know that applicants will be a good citizen and that they will live according to the moral and legal standards of this country.

Post 2

I am doing an assignment about citizenship and I want to write about good moral character. Can you help me understand a few things on this subject?

Can someone be denied citizenship because of minor offenses like speeding tickets?

And what about that individuals life and experiences in their home country? If someone has no criminal record in the US but does have one in their home country, does that affect their prospects of becoming a US citizen?

Thank you!

Post 1

A friend of mine is in law school and he feels that the good moral character requirement for bar admissions is unfair.

He actually agrees that lawyers should be of high moral character and I also agree with him. I think my friend is against this being a requirement because it is more about reputation than anything else.

I'm sure that this is not intentional, but certain racial and ethnic groups are not allowed to become lawyers because of a crime in their background maybe fifteen years ago.

I personally don't think this means they have a bad moral character. It also doesn't mean that they will not be good lawyers. It does seem that the good moral character requirement for bar applications is more about tradition and reputation than about morality.

What do you think?

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