Moral Turpitude – Entering the US with a Criminal Record

There seems to be a lot of confusion with respect to entering the United States with a criminal record.

The basic tenant, as the late Charlton Heston would have put it, is ; ‘Thou shall not enter the United States of America if convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude or drugs.

The source of confusion originates from what is considered to be a crime of moral turpitude. This term used in American law is loosely defined and refers to conduct that is ‘ considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty and good morals.’

As an indication, the US Department of State Foreign affairs offers a comprehensive list of offences deemed to be of moral turpitude on their website at the following link

Morals eh? Would this include a petty offence that is only punishable by summary conviction, such as the offence of soliciting a prostitute ?

You Bet! This offence is considered a crime involving moral turpitude, and as such, would render inadmissibility pursuant to section 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I) of theImmigration and Nationality Act (US).

There is an exception however! If the ONLY conviction in the persons criminal record is a petty offence or misdemeanor (punishable by a maximum of one year of imprisonment under US Law) and the person was sentenced to 6 months of detention or less, he is not inadmissible on this basis.

In the given example of the crime of solicitation, the maximum sentence in the US is of 1 year imprisonment. Therefore a person sentenced to a fine and a probation would be admissible as opposed to a person sentenced to more than 6 months of imprisonment. In addition, given that this exception is only applicable to ONE conviction, a person convicted of this offence twice may be inadmissible.

What about Drunk Driving, even politicians get those?

If there are no aggravating factors( ex: serious accident, injuries etc.) there should be no problem, as impaired driving is not considered a crime of moral turpitude. To be prudent, it is always best to have a copy of the conviction on hand to show to the customs officer.

The important thing to remember is that you can never be certain of what the customs officer is seeing on his screen when questioning you on the subject of previous convictions and arrests. One must therefore answer these questions as accurately as possible in order to avoid being flagged, declared permanently ineligible or even detained with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


For additional information on this topic visit the United States Embassy in Canadawebsite


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