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Will One Crime Prevent My Naturalization? The Petty Offense Exception

Criminal wearing handcuffs in prison

To be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must establish that he or she is of "good moral character" ("GMC"). There are many things that the Immigration and Nationality Act identifies as bars or barriers to demonstrating GMC. Examples include:

  • One or More Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude ("CIMTs") -- conviction or admission of one or more CIMTs, except for one petty offense (see below)
  • Engaging in prostitution
  • Giving false testimony to obtain any immigration benefit
  • Being involved in smuggling of a person to enter or try to enter the United States in violation of law
  • Having practiced or is practicing polygamy (the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time)
  • Is or has been a habitual drunkard

In this article, we will discuss the first category listed above. In general, an applicant for naturalization is unable to establish GMC if he or she is convicted of -- or admits to -- committing one or more CIMT during the relevant period. However, as noted above, for the USCIS, ONE episode of criminal behavior of a very minor nature will NOT constitute a barrier to proving GMC. In the United States, these very minor crimes are generally called "petty crimes." The USCIS has specifically created an exception for a single petty crime called the "petty offense exception." Here is the background.

In general, for the USCIS, a petty offense is one where the actual jail sentence imposed for the offense -- if any -- was 6 months or less and where the maximum possible jail sentence for the offense did not exceed one year. Importantly, the USCIS uses the criminal law definitions from the State where the crime was committed. Thus, in one state, a crime might be a petty offense, but in another state, it might be a non-petty offense. Examples of petty offenses in California include:

  • Shoplifting or theft where the value of what was stolen was less than $950
  • Reckless Driving
  • Driving on Suspended License
  • Minor assault or battery (without exacerbating factors like the use of a weapon)
  • Domestic Battery (again, without exacerbating factors)
  • Violation of Restraining Order
  • Disturbing the Peace
  • Trespassing
  • Disorderly Conduct

What this means is that, in effect, an applicant for naturalization is not barred from showing GMC just because he or she has committed ONE petty offense. Of course, the one petty offense will still be taken into account by the naturalization judge and might weigh against having naturalization granted. But, a single petty offense is not a full barrier to a finding of GMC.

Contact Yekrangi & Associates Today

For more information, contact the Orange County Immigration Attorneys at Yekrangi & Associates today. You are not alone and we will fight for you. Yekrangi & Associates works to meet a higher standard. Our first goal is your satisfaction. Contact us at (949) 478-4963 to schedule a consultation or complete our convenient “Get Your Consultation” form here. We are located in Irvine, California.

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