Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude: The Youthful Offender Exception

If you committed a crime when you were below age 18 but were tried in adult court, the youthful offender exception may protect you against denial of immigration benefits.

A conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude can prevent you from getting a U.S. visa or green card (lawful permanent residence). Nolo’s article, “What’s a Crime of Moral Turpitude According to U.S. Immigration Law?” will give you the basics on what types of crimes fit this categorization.

If you were young when you committed the crime, you may be interested in the “youthful offender exception” (found in section 212(a)(2)(A)(ii)(I) of the Immigration and Nationality Act). As discussed in this article, the youthful offender exception -- which is different than a conviction in juvenile court -- stops a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude from being an automatic bar to eligibility for legal status.

Determining Whether You Are a “Youthful Offender”

Your conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude will be excused if you meet the four following requirements:

  1. You were under 18 years old when you committed the offense. The youthful offender exception applies even if you were an adult at the time of trial or when you served your sentence.
  2. You were convicted in a regular criminal court. This means that you must have been tried as an adult to qualify for the youthful offender exception. If you were tried in a juvenile court, you most likely do not need the youthful offender exception because the U.S. government probably cannot use your conviction to automatically bar you from obtaining legal status, even if you do not meet the other requirements listed here.
  3. It has been more than five years since you committed the offense.
  4. If you were sentenced to jail or a correctional institution, it has been more than five years since you were released.

For example, if you committed a crime involving moral turpitude the day before your 18th birthday, were tried and convicted as an adult, served six months in jail, and applied for a visa five years and one day after your release, you would be considered a youthful offender.

If you committed a crime involving moral turpitude when you were 16 years old, pled guilty in adult court, served two years in jail, and applied for a visa five years and one day after the date of your conviction, you would not be considered a youthful offender. You would need to wait two more years and apply when you had been out of jail for five years.

How to Show That the Youthful Offender Exception Applies

In order to show that your offense is covered by the youthful offender exception, you will need to provide the U.S. government with:

  • your birth certificate or other documentation to establish proof of your age
  • a certified disposition of your case, showing your conviction and sentence, and
  • proof that you were released from jail more than five years before filing your application (if applicable in your case).

Procedures for obtaining a certified record of your conviction vary from court to court. You or your attorney should be able to get the records you need by contacting the clerk of the court in which you were convicted.

You can get evidence of the date of your release from jail by contacting the institution in which you were held, the department of justice for the state in which you were held, or your probation officer if you have one.

You should also provide a copy of the language of the statute under which you were convicted when you submit your immigration application. You can find most statutes on state websites or at the public library.

Situations Where the Youthful Offender Exception Won’t Help

The youthful offender exception applies only to crimes involving moral turpitude. Many offenses, including most controlled substance violations, cannot be excused by the youthful offender exception.

Additionally, the youthful offender exception can be used to excuse only one offense. If you committed two or more crimes involving moral turpitude before turning 18, you will not be able to benefit from the youthful offender exception.

The youthful offender exception provides a way for certain immigrants convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude when they were young to remain eligible for admission to the United States. Even if you meet the requirements for the youthful offender exception, an immigration judge or USCIS officer may still consider your criminal past in evaluating your moral character.

Like all criminal issues in immigration law, the youthful offender exception is complicated and its availability depends on the specific circumstances of your case. If you have a criminal issue, it is best to see an experienced immigration attorney to help you determine how to proceed.

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