Deportation for a Sin: Why Moral Turpitude is Void for Vagueness

60 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2011 Last revised: 30 Sep 2015

See all articles by Mary Holper

Mary Holper

Boston College - Law School


A major problem facing noncitizen criminal defendants today is the vagueness of the term “crime involving moral turpitude” (CIMT) in deportation law. The Supreme Court in the 1951 case Jordan v. DeGeorge decided that a statute authorizing deportation for a CIMT was not void for vagueness because courts had long held the noncitizen’s offense, fraud, to be a CIMT, so he was on notice of his likely deportation. I argue that when noncitizens are charged with an offense that case law has not clearly delineated as a CIMT, the term is vague, since the definition used by the agency and courts, an act that is “base, vile, depraved, and contrary to the rules of morality,” provides no useful definition. Rather, it casts judges in the role of God, deporting noncitizens for sin. Exacerbating this situation is the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Padilla v. Kentucky; since the Court held that defense counsel only has a Sixth Amendment duty to warn noncitizens about immigration consequences that are “succinct, clear, and explicit” from the immigration statute, there is no clear obligation to warn about deportability for a CIMT. Scholars have thoroughly discussed the vagueness doctrine and also have begun to analyze the Court’s recent Padilla decision. This article is the first to address whether CIMT in deportation law is void for vagueness in a post-Padilla world.

Suggested Citation

Holper, Mary, Deportation for a Sin: Why Moral Turpitude is Void for Vagueness. Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 90, p. 647, 2012, Roger Williams University Legal Studies Paper No. 115, Available at SSRN:

Mary Holper (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

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