How a “Crime of Moral Turpitude” Can Affect Your Immigration and Citizenship Status
A criminal conviction in Georgia may carry severe consequences beyond serving time in prison or paying a hefty fine. If you are not a natural-born U.S. citizen you may face serious immigration consequences as well. Your right to remain in the country can be revoked, even if you are already a naturalized citizen.
Atlanta Appeals Court Reverses Order “Denaturalizing” U.S. Citizen Over Conspiracy Conviction
A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, United States v. Lopez, demonstrates just how seriously the federal government takes these matters. This case involves an attempt to revoke a defendant’s citizenship based on criminal acts she committed prior to her application for naturalization. The 11th Circuit, in turn, had to examine whether the nature of the defendant’s crime was one of “moral turpitude” under federal law.
The defendant was born in Cuba and held Venezuelan citizenship prior to moving to the United States. In 2003, she applied for naturalization as a U.S. citizen. As a standard part of the naturalization form, the defendant had to sign a statement under penalty of perjury that she had not “committed a crime or offense for which [she was] NOT arrested.” She had to sign a similar statement when she took her citizenship oath in 2007.
But in 2012, federal prosecutors charged the defendant with healthcare fraud and conspiracy. Essentially, the government alleged the defendant and her husband submitted several million dollars in false Medicare claims. The defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to a single count of “conspiracy to commit money laundering.” She was sentenced to four years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.
In 2021, the federal government filed a separate lawsuit to revoke the defendant’s naturalization. Under federal law, revocation or “denaturalization” is permitted if a naturalized citizen committed a “crime of moral turpitude” during the naturalization process and failed to disclose that fact to immigration authorities. A federal judge ruled in favor of the government.
But the 11th Circuit reversed. The appellate court explained that when determining if a criminal offense qualifies as a “crime involving moral turpitude,” federal courts apply what is known as a “categorical approach.” Essentially, the court must “examine the elements of the offense the naturalized citizen was convicted of committing–not her actual conduct–to determine if every means of committing that crime necessarily involves moral turpitude.” In this context, moral turpitude means the conduct involves “baseness, vileness, or depravity.”
Here, the 11th Circuit could not say the defendant’s conspiracy to commit money laundering “categorically” involved moral turpitude. The Court noted that “conspiracy” to commit money laundering can be accomplished in several ways under the federal statue. Not all of these ways involve the type of immoral conduct covered by moral turpitude. As such, it was a mistake for the trial court to revoke the defendant’s citizenship based on this specific conviction.
Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today
Regardless of your citizenship status, any allegations of criminal fraud can have a serious impact on your life. That is why it is important to work with an experienced Atlanta fraud lawyer if you have been accused of such crimes. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today at 770-685-6400 to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.