What Is “Good Moral Character?”
To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, an applicant must show that he or she is a person of “good moral character.” That said, an applicant can be barred from establishing good moral character if they are arrested for driving under the influence. The good moral character standard is notoriously difficult to define, but one can look at the DUI statutes in the state of their conviction to get a better idea of what it means per the laws of that state.
What Factors Does the USCIS Consider in the Good Moral Character Analysis?
Under the Trump Administration, there is a “zero tolerance” environment for DUI/DWI offenses. However, a DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) conviction does not necessarily bar an applicant from applying for U.S. citizenship. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) needs to consider the circumstances of each case to complete a moral character analysis. In doing so, the USCIS will mainly look at the last five years of an applicant’s life, though convictions for certain crimes may be considered regardless of when they were committed.
For example, the USCIS may consider:
- Was it your first and only DUI?
- What was your blood alcohol content (BAC) level?
- Was there any property damage?
- Was anyone hurt in an accident?
- Were you driving other passengers (including children) in your car?
If an applicant is on probation while cited for a DUI, the USCIS is likely to consider this “bad moral character.” In some states, an applicant can ask a judge to terminate their probation early to ensure they are ready for their citizenship interview. This is where having an experienced attorney by your side can make all the difference.
Petty Offense Exception
An applicant can be considered automatically admissible if their conviction is deemed a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT).
The “petty offense exception” states that a noncitizen is not automatically inadmissible, on account of a conviction or admission of a CIMT, if the applicant demonstrates that:
- They have committed only one CIMT during their lifetime;
- The conviction carries a maximum possible sentence of 1 year or less; and
- They were not sentenced to a term of imprisonment longer than 6 months.
This is significant for an applicant with a DUI on their record, because a previous non-CIMT conviction (including DUI), does not disqualify an applicant from receiving the petty offense exception. It is highly recommended that an applicant with a criminal record consult with an immigration lawyer who can develop and present a strong legal case for admission to the USCIS.
If you’re an applicant, you must take care to mention your DUI on your N-400 form, which is also known as your Application for Naturalization. A failure to disclose this information may preclude a finding of good moral character from the start. On the other hand, applicants can provide evidence of good moral character, such as volunteer activities or giving back to the community. Applicants are also encouraged to file letters of support from their friends and loved ones.
Explore Your Legal Options Today
The legal professionals at our firm understand that we, as human beings, sometimes make honest mistakes. Applying for U.S. citizenship with a DUI or DWI may seem like an uphill battle, but you have a great change of success with our practitioners by your side.
Contact Yekrangi & Associates at (949) 478-4963 to discuss your case with an experienced immigration attorney.