What is Moral Turpitude?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Moral turpitude is personal conduct which goes against public morals. A number of crimes are considered acts of moral turpitude because they violate community standards in addition to the law. Such conduct is regarded as a black mark against someone's reputation, and may cause problems in the future after conviction because people who have been committed of crimes involving this type of conduct may be regarded as less trustworthy or honorable. A history of such crimes can, for example, bar people from certain types of employment or activities.

Counterfeiting is a crime of moral turpitude.
Counterfeiting is a crime of moral turpitude.

A number of crimes can fall under the umbrella of moral turpitude, including murder, fraud, rape, arson, robbery, and counterfeiting. While someone cannot be punished specifically for engaging in activity which is considered to be affront to public morals, he or she can be penalized for the crime itself, potentially doing jail time, paying fines, and facing other consequences.

Arson may fall under moral turpitude.
Arson may fall under moral turpitude.

Once someone's criminal record carries a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude, it can become a barrier. Membership in professional organizations may be denied, and people may not be allowed to practice certain professions if they have a history of such crimes. Someone who has been convicted of child molestation, for example, is not allowed to work in an environment where children are present. Attempting to conceal prior criminal history can be grounds for penalties as well.

Another situation in which moral turpitude can arise is in the examination of a witness. If a witness has a history of such crimes, his or her testimony may be regarded as less reliable. One side or the other on a case can use this information to discredit a witness, and lawyers must be aware of this when calling witnesses as they may want to reconsider calling a witness with poor character, since sometimes such witnesses do more harm than good. People who are asked to serve as witnesses should make sure that the lawyer requesting their presence is aware of their history and any barriers to testifying.

A final situation in which moral turpitude can become critical is in immigration law. Some nations bar immigration to people convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude, and such crimes can be grounds for deportation as well. Because immigration law usually does not clearly define which crimes fall under this umbrella, it can be challenging to determine whether or not a crime is grounds for deportation or denial of a visa. An immigration lawyer with experience in this area can assist an immigrant and make sure that she or he is given a fair chance.

Robbery is often under the umbrella of moral turpitude.
Robbery is often under the umbrella of moral turpitude.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments



I think that the values which delineate what moral turpitude is are universal and self-evident, as the constitution states. Cannibalistic societies have simply found a way to ignore their conscience.



These laws against moral turpitude keep us from becoming like those societies, and yet, it is helpful to remember that our society was once in a similar place. Much of Western Europe once practiced cannibalism, and it was not due to our own special genetic qualities that we came to be the way we are today. On the contrary, it was a moral system from far away which changed us and enabled the West to be built up.


An example of moral turpitude would be cannibalism. It has actually been revered as a tradition in the past, by many island tribes and nations, and yet is a capital crime of immense depravity in all highly civilized nations. This just goes to show that a people group can descend low enough to venerate moral turpitude as a good action.


The decadence of a society is usually measured in terms of how many people are allowed to continue in moral turpitude. If a legal system does not directly address these crimes against fellow human beings, it is failing, and the society may crumble. What is important for keeping people abiding and respecting the law is a strong moral upbringing, which is the ultimate basis for a morally correct and safe nation.

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