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Domestic Violence & Moral Turpitude: It’s Complicated (US Law Explained)

Whether domestic violence is considered a crime of moral turpitude depends on the jurisdiction and the circumstances of the case. In many areas, crimes involving dishonesty, deceit, or depravity are categorized as crimes of moral turpitude. Domestic violence may be considered a crime of moral turpitude if it involves elements such as intentional harm, deceit, or a breach of trust.
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What is Domestic Violence?

According to FindLaw, domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship used by one partner to gain or maintain control over another intimate partner [1].

In the realm of criminal law, domestic violence can manifest in various forms across one or multiple incidents. This may involve attempted assaults, threats of immediate physical harm, sexual assault, or psychological abuse, such as stalking. Understanding the multifaceted nature of domestic violence is crucial in addressing and combating this pervasive issue.

Types of Domestic Violence

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Physical abuse, Emotional abuse, Sexual abuse, Financial abuse, Digital abuse, Sexual coercion, Reproductive coercion, and Stalking are all different forms of abuse that can occur in relationships [2].

  • Physical Abuse – involves the use of physical violence or threats to assert power over an individual, leading survivors to fear future instances of abuse. This often reinforces the use of more subtle forms of abuse.
  • Emotional Abuse – Entails non-physical behaviors aimed at controlling, isolating, or intimidating someone. Despite being less visible, emotional abuse is just as serious as other forms of abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse – Occurs when a partner controls physical and sexual intimacy within a relationship, often through non-consensual and coercive actions.
  • Financial Abuse – This occurs when an abusive partner extends control over the victim’s financial situation, limiting their independence and autonomy.
  • Digital Abuse – Involves using technology and the internet to bully, harass, or control a partner, often manifesting as verbal or emotional abuse conducted online.
  • Sexual Coercion – encompasses a range of sexually aggressive behaviors, from persuasion to forced sexual contact, creating an environment where consent is disregarded.
  • Reproductive Coercion – a form of power and control where one partner manipulates the other’s reproductive choices, often through pressure, guilt, or shame.
  • Stalking – Involves repeated harassment, surveillance, or intimidation, causing the victim to feel unsafe and fearful. This behavior may be perpetrated by someone known to the victim or a stranger.

What is Moral Turpitude?

Moral turpitude” refers to reprehensible and morally corrupt behavior that deviates from societal norms, encompassing actions deemed immoral, unethical, or unjust, and capable of shocking a community.

In legal ethics, attorneys found guilty of acts of moral turpitude may face severe consequences, including disbarment. For instance, in California, Standard 2.11 of Title IV in the Rules of Procedure of the State Bar outlines the grounds for disbarment due to moral turpitude.

According to Standard 2.15(a), attorneys convicted of felonies involving moral turpitude are subject to summary disbarment, emphasizing the serious repercussions of such behavior in the legal profession.

Domestic Violence and Moral Turpitude

Domestic violence convictions may lead to significant collateral consequences due to the potential classification of such crimes as moral turpitude offenses. These repercussions can impact various aspects of an individual’s life, including professional certifications, licenses, and immigration status.

Criminal offenses typically involve varying degrees of fault, ranging from intentional to negligent or reckless behavior. While some crimes inherently involve moral turpitude, others may be deemed as such based on the specific circumstances of the case.

The identity of the victim often plays a crucial role in determining whether domestic violence is categorized as a crime of moral turpitude. In instances where the victim is a spouse, domestic violence is more likely to be considered as such.

Collateral consequences refer to secondary penalties stemming from a conviction, which are distinct from direct court-imposed penalties. These consequences can affect employment, business relationships, governmental privileges, and professional affiliations.

Employment contracts frequently stipulate the requirement of good moral character, and a conviction for a crime of moral turpitude may constitute a breach of this contract. Employers may terminate contracts based on the belief that domestic violence involves moral turpitude.

Furthermore, professional licenses, including those for medical practitioners, lawyers, nurses, mortgage brokers, and cosmetologists, often require applicants to demonstrate good moral character. A domestic violence conviction can lead to the denial of a license application or the revocation of an existing license, severely limiting an individual’s employment prospects.

Even individuals with current licenses may face disciplinary action following a domestic violence conviction, potentially resulting in probation, suspension, revocation, or permanent exclusion from their profession. Therefore, it is essential to vigorously defend against allegations of domestic violence to mitigate adverse employment consequences.

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