Moral turpitude is an old legal term that simply means depraved or immoral. The term most commonly applies to crimes of moral turpitude and how that class of crimes affects other areas of law. Moral turpitude crimes may affect contract terms, employment law and immigration. (A conviction for a crime of moral turpitude may also result in an attorney’s disbarment under Texas law.) These crimes generally include those involving a reckless disregard for the well-being of others but it has specific legal meanings under Texas law.
One Texas court described crimes of moral turpitude as:
Moral turpitude refers to conduct that shocks the conscience as being inherently base, vile or depraved; and contrary to both the accepted rules of morality and the duties owed between persons or to society in general. The term typically implies something immoral in itself, regardless of whether it is punishable by law. The doing of the act, and not its prohibition by statute, fixes the moral turpitude.
Muniz v. State, 575 S.W.2d 408 (Tex. Civ. App.–Corpus Christi 1978, writ refused n.r.e.)
What is considered a crime of moral turpitude in Texas?
A crime of moral turpitude as explained in Muniz v. State is a crime involving dishonesty that shocks the conscience with its depravity. There is no set definition for the term of exactly what crimes constitute moral turpitude. Within Texas laws there are several sets of crimes identified as those of moral turpitude which do not completely agree with one another. Definitions sometimes read as though moral turpitude are the most heinous crimes imaginable. Although lists of these crimes include the worst of crimes they also often include less severe crimes like robbery. In some states receiving stolen merchandise is a crime of moral turpitude. The Texas Attorney General issued an opinion in 2005 that soliciting bail bond business in jails or police stations is a crime of moral turpitude. Generally if a crime of moral turpitude does not include fraud or dishonesty it includes intent to harm another person, actual harm to another, or targets a protected group (like children).
The distinction between whether a crime falls into this definition is rarely important in the modern legal system. Two areas where it is commonly an issue is employment law and immigration law. In employment law, crimes of moral turpitude can be grounds for termination particularly when an employee works under a contract. Employment contracts, especially for executives and salespeople, often empower employers to terminate employees for convictions of crimes of moral turpitude. (See more below.) Federal immigration law also considers crimes of moral turpitude as disqualifying crimes that can affect visas and citizenship.
What is an example of a crime of moral turpitude?
Under Texas law there are specific crimes categorized as crimes of moral turpitude. While definitions of the phrase could include more or less than this list, these crimes specifically fall within this definition under state law. Other states may include other crimes or exclude some of these crimes within their own laws. Additionally, for specific purposes some crimes may be crimes of moral turpitude under one area of Texas law while not considered a crime of moral turpitude under another area.
Under the Texas Administrative Code the Texas State Board of Public Accountability includes the following lengthy list of crimes as crimes of moral turpitude. These crimes may result in losing state issued accounting licenses. These include:
(2) moral turpitude:
(A) Public Lewdness;
(B) Indecent Exposure;
(C) Enticing a Child;
(D) Improper Contact with Victim;
(E) Abuse of Corpse;
(G) Promotion of Prostitution;
(H) Obscene Display or Distribution;
(J) Sale, Distribution, or Display of Harmful Material to Minor; and
(K) Employment Harmful to Children;
- sexual assault of a child
- lying to a police officer
- mail fraud
- tax evasion
- purchase of a child
- indecent exposure
- failure to stop and render aid
- aggravated assault
- assault by a male on a female
- communicating a false alarm
- bank fraud
It is important to consider the circumstances in which the term applies to determine whether a particular criminal act falls within the definition.
Is DUI a crime of moral turpitude?
Generally a DUI is not a crime of moral turpitude. Recall that moral turpitude crimes require a depraved or extreme reckless to the conduct. Certainly driving under the influence is a reckless act and can cause death or serious bodily harm to people; however, DUI generally is not something people set out to do because they want to cause harm to somebody else.
A DUI can be a crime of moral turpitude under certain circumstances. If there are drugs involved or aggravating factors then a DUI could be a crime of moral turpitude. This includes driving with a suspended license, other drug use, reckless endangerment of a child in the car or if the DUI results in the murder of another person.
Texas employment law and moral turpitude
This phrase often makes its way into employment contracts as a condition that destroys the contract. If the employee commits a crime of moral turpitude, the employer has the right to terminate the contract. This typically means if the employee suffers conviction of a crime of depravity then the employer can fire the employee. A moral turpitude clause is likely going to apply to crimes in the categories listed above. The vagueness opens the door to terminate employees for violent crimes, fraud, drunk driving and other crimes. While the term is vague enough to apply to low level crimes it’s most likely applied to more serious crimes.
There is a legitimate reason for employers to implement moral turpitude clauses. When employers enter into contracts with their employees, the agreement binds the parties. Absent the moral turpitude clause an employer might have to continue employing an employee committing fraud or endangering others. (Or pay damages to breach the contract and terminate the employee.) While you might think that what an employee does outside of the company is no business of the employer that is not always the case. Public attention to these crimes may put the employer in a bad light. That is why media personalities and sports players often have these terms in their contracts. Additionally, those crimes of fraud, theft, recklessness may occur outside of the workplace but those bad character traits may appear in the workplace and the employer has a legitimate interest in keeping those behaviors away.
At-will employees (have not signed an employment contract) may also be subject to termination for crimes of moral turpitude. It is entirely possible that the employment handbook, code of conduct, or other document governing behavior in the workplace contains a notice that the employer may terminate employees for conviction of such crimes. It is important to note that at-will employees may lose jobs for any reason not prohibited by law, which means even if no employment document discusses crimes of moral turpitude the employer may nevertheless terminate employment for that reason.
Crimes of moral turpitude can also be an issue with immigration statuses that allow workers on employment visas to remain in the country. Immigration law is concerned with how visa workers conduct themselves in the country. If visa workers engage in depraved crimes then it is understandable that the government may want to escort those workers out of the country. If you work under a visa and you have been charged with a crime you should hire an attorney immediately to defend you. Accepting a plea agreement or a conviction may result in losing your visa.