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.
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.
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.