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Shoplifting: Serious Charge? Moral Turpitude Explained (2024)

Shoplifting can be considered a crime of moral turpitude if the act involves premeditation, deceit, or other elements of dishonesty. However, whether an individual’s specific instance of shoplifting qualifies as a crime of moral turpitude would ultimately depend on the details of the case and how it is interpreted by the relevant legal authorities.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

What is Moral Turpitude?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, moral turpitude embodies “a quality of dishonesty or other immorality that is determined by a court to be present in the commission of a criminal offense” [1]. Within the legal realm, a crime of moral turpitude signifies an act that profoundly shocks the community’s conscience due to its depravity and unethical nature.

An array of actions can fall under this classification, spanning misdemeanors to felonies. Intriguingly, despite the lack of a precise definition for “crimes involving moral turpitude,” a conviction for such transgressions can yield substantial repercussions, particularly for non-U.S. citizens and professionals in the business sphere.

For example, if a foreigner is found guilty of or admits to having committed moral turpitude crimes, they may not be allowed to enter the country, or they could be removed from the U.S. Criminal defense attorneys representing clients charged with a crime of moral turpitude must explore and understand all potential legal options to help avoid the potentially devastating impacts of a conviction.

What is a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

A crime of moral turpitude represents a classification of criminal conduct characterized by a somewhat elusive definition, yet broadly understood as an act that is inherently depraved, immoral, or breaches fundamental duties owed to society. Such transgressions may also be described as reprehensible, typically necessitating a level of intent, such as recklessness, to meet the criteria.

Because of the broad definition, the crimes that will constitute a crime of moral turpitude will differ from state to state. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate your offense to see whether you might fall into this category.

Related Article: Is DUI a Moral Turpitude?

When is Shoplifting a Crime of Moral Turpitude?

According to SCLG, shoplifting frequently falls under the category of crimes of moral turpitude (CIMT), and if classified as such, it can amplify the repercussions of a conviction [2]. Particularly for non-citizens, it can jeopardize immigration status. However, it’s noteworthy that in certain contexts, shoplifting may not reach the severity threshold to be categorized as a CIMT. Minor infractions of this nature are often exempted from the classification of crimes of moral turpitude.

In more severe instances, shoplifting convictions can have far-reaching collateral consequences, including:

  • Impact on Immigration Status
  • Employment Implications
  • Hindrance in Obtaining Professional Licenses or Certificates
  • Potential License Revocation Due to Disciplinary Action

Given the potential ramifications, it is crucial to address shoplifting charges with utmost diligence and seek appropriate legal counsel to navigate the complexities of the legal process effectively.

What are Other Crimes of Moral Turpitude?

  • Murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Rape
  • Spousal abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Incest
  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery
  • Aggravated assault
  • Mayhem
  • Animal fighting
  • Theft
  • Bigamy
  • Fraud
  • Conspiracy, attempt, or acting as an accessory to a crime if that crime involved moral turpitude.

How Does a Shoplifting Conviction Affect Immigration?

Shoplifting doesn’t discriminate based on socio-economic status and can occur across all demographics, including legal immigrants, whether they hold permanent residency, visas (such as student or work visas), or refugee or asylee status.

Instances of shoplifting vary, from simply walking out of a store without paying for items to tampering with price tags to pay a lower amount. In some cases, employees entrusted with selling items may also engage in embezzlement.

Shoplifting falls under the category of “moral turpitude” crimes, rendering it a deportable offense. Subsequent convictions, especially if the individual has a prior theft conviction, may be considered aggravated felonies by the Department of Homeland Security, potentially leading to deportation.

Facing prosecution in an immigration court can have severe consequences, including disqualification from U.S. citizenship and revocation of a Green Card. Undocumented individuals may become ineligible for admission into the United States.

Legal immigrants convicted of a single crime involving moral turpitude may face deportation if the offense carries a possible jail sentence of at least one year and was committed within five years of admission to the U.S. The “petty offense exception” may allow admissibility if the offense resulted in a maximum sentence of one year, with no more than six months served.

In negotiating for such plea bargains to avoid the immigration consequences of a conviction for shoplifting, the attorney may be wise to have the client complete online classes for shoplifting prevention in the future. It is also prudent to immediately request a copy of the store security film, if it exists, as such videos rarely actually show any theft. More often than not, the film merely shows our client in the store, which is certainly not a crime.

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