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Good moral character

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Title: Good moral character  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Background check, Law enforcement in the United States, Moral turpitude
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Good moral character

In United States law, good moral character describes behaviors in which the applicants could not have been involved and details requirements for consideration for certain benefits or positions. The term is chiefly used by the federal government in immigration law, but it can also be a requirement for a particular position of employment or licensure in a particular occupation or profession, such as admission to practice law. In order to gain U.S. citizenship through naturalization, a person must be considered of "good moral character".

It is the opposite of moral turpitude, another legal concept in the United States used in similar instances.

In immigration law

Good moral character is an important aspect of immigration law and even minor violations can be the sole reason for a dismissal of a case appealing for citizenship.[1]

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services describes "good moral character" as an absence of involvement in the following activities:[2]

  • Being convicted of murder
  • Being convicted of an aggravated felony or Federal crime, which includes:
    • Murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor
    • Illicit trafficking in controlled substances
    • Firearms, destructive devices, and explosive materials offenses
    • Money laundering
    • Crimes of violence for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year
    • Theft and burglary offenses for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year
    • Crimes involving the demand for or receipt of ransom
    • Crimes involving child pornography
    • Crimes involving a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)
    • A second or subsequent gambling offense for which a one-year or greater term of imprisonment may be imposed
    • Prostitution "managing" and transporting offenses
    • Crimes against the government
    • Offenses that jeopardize national security
    • Offenses that involve fraud or deceit in which the victims' aggregate losses exceed $10,000
    • Tax evasion involving a government loss in excess of $10,000
    • Alien smuggling, except for first offenses involving attempts to enable entry by a relative of the accused
    • Certain offenses committed by aliens who were previously deported for having committed a crime
    • Passport fraud offenses with a term of imprisonment of one year or greater, except for first offenses involving attempts to enable entry by a relative of the accused
    • Failure to appear to serve a sentence for which the underlying offense is punishable by imprisonment for five or more years
    • Offenses involving commercial bribery, counterfeiting, forgery, or trafficking in vehicles with altered identification numbers with a term of imprisonment of at least one year
    • Offenses involving obstruction of justice, perjury, subornation of perjury, and witness tampering with a term of imprisonment of at least one year
    • Failure to appear in court pursuant to court order to answer to a felony charge for which a sentence of two or more years’ imprisonment may be imposed
    • Committing or being convicted of one or more crimes involving "moral turpitude"[3]
    • Committing and being convicted of two or more offenses with a total sentence of five or more years
    • Being confined to a penal institution during the statutory period (either the preceding three or five years, depending on the circumstances, or one year for Armed Forces expedited cases) for an aggregate of 180 days or more
    • Committing and being convicted of two or more gambling offenses
    • Earning your principal income from gambling.
    • Being involved in prostitution or commercialized vice
    • Being involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States
    • Being a habitual drunkard
    • Practicing polygamy
    • Willfully failing or refusing to support dependents
    • Giving false testimony under oath in order to receive benefits under the Immigration and Nationality Act

Additionally, several other activities disqualify a person from having "good moral character":

  • Failing to register for Selective Service
  • Providing false information in documents
  • Falsely claiming U.S. citizenship

In employment

The precise requirements among government and commercial employers vary widely. Background checks are a type of verification of good moral character and they are often accompanied by drug testing. For admission to the bar in the United States, lawyers must go through extensive moral character checks as part of the application process.


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