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Renewing the Vagueness Challenge to Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

By June 1, 2022August 8th, 2022No Comments

Abstract: Noncitizens who have been convicted of a “crime involving moral turpitude” (CIMT) under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) can be deported. However, the INA fails to provide a definition for “moral turpitude” or a list of crimes that necessarily involve “moral turpitude.” As a result, judges are given wide discretion to decide when a crime is morally reprehensible enough to render a noncitizen deportable. This moral determination in the CIMT analysis has led to disparate results among the lower courts, which deprives noncitizens of meaningful notice of what conduct could render them deportable. In 1951, the Supreme Court held in Jordan v. De George that the phrase “crimes involving moral turpitude” was not unconstitutionally vague. This decision left the moral turpitude provisions intact in the INA, though still undefined.

While the Jordan decision remains untouched, the CIMT analysis has drastically evolved. Under the current framework, judges across the country reach disparate results on whether certain crimes necessarily involve moral turpitude, and noncitizens pay the price of the ensuing arbitrary results. Regulatory crimes pose particular difficulties in applying the current CIMT analysis. Even though some courts have reasoned regulatory crimes are typically not crimes involving moral turpitude, other courts have held the opposite. This discrepancy is notable with respect to a recent circuit split over whether failure to register as a sex offender is a CIMT. The revival and expansion of the void-for-vagueness doctrine and the increasing uncertainty over CIMT analysis—shown chiefly through sex offender registration statutes—creates an opportunity to revisit the vagueness challenge to the CIMT provision in the INA seventy years since it was first heard by the Court. Accordingly, the current framework for analyzing whether a crime involves moral turpitude under the INA should be rendered void-for-vagueness under the Due Process Clause.

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