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Defining moral turpitude in law license disciplinary matters

As an attorney, you probably already know that the concept of “moral turpitude” is not easy to define. Besides the subjective nature of moral turpitude, it comes up in several legal areas, including professional license defense. So it is a good idea to have a basic grasp of what moral turpitude is, even if it does not often come up in your practice.

Moral turpitude originates in common law. Various state and federal courts have interpreted what it means in somewhat different ways, and there is no universal definition in American law. But in general, an act of moral turpitude is thought of as one that is immoral, depraved and contrary to justice. Usually, an act of moral turpitude is a crime, but not always. On the other hand, most crimes will be considered acts of moral turpitude, but not automatically.

What crimes result from moral turpitude?

Crimes that courts commonly describe as involving moral turpitude include:

  • Violent crimes
  • Crimes involving the use of a dangerous weapon
  • Fraud
  • Theft

Even if a crime is a misdemeanor, the California State Bar Court will temporarily suspend an attorney’s license. Then the court will hold a disciplinary hearing to determine whether to restore the lawyer’s law license or punish them. Some crimes, such as theft, are defined in the statute as involving moral turpitude, and a conviction is very likely to lead to a license suspension or revocation. Others, such as drinking and driving, are less likely to lead to such severe punishment.

Fighting to save your California law license

Whether you have been convicted of a crime that unambiguously involves moral turpitude, or if the picture is unclear, you need to do what is possible to fight for your privilege to practice law in California.

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