SHOULD PROSTITUTION BE A CRIME OF MORAL TURPITUDE?
There are various consequences to being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude. In addition to having the conviction on her or his record, being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude means that if the person ever testifies in a criminal case, she or he can be impeached with that conviction. Another consequence applies to federal immigration cases in which a conviction of a crime of moral turpitude can be used as a basis to remove the person from the country.
In California, a witness can be impeached with past convictions of crimes involving moral turpitude. The definition of a crime of moral turpitude varies. Generally speaking, a crime of moral turpitude includes intent crimes that involve dishonesty or fraud. It also includes crimes that involve antisocial behavior that harm and/or corrupts others. It has also been defined as a crime that shows a “general readiness to do evil.”
In California, a misdemeanor conviction for prostitution is considered to be a crime of moral turpitude that can be used to impeach a witness. While prostitution may include certain elements of dishonesty and antisocial behavior that corrupt others, there are certainly instances in which it does not involve dishonesty and antisocial behavior in the way other crimes of moral turpitude do. For example, when a person is convicted of prostitution as a result of working for a “pimp,” the crime does not involve dishonesty in the way other crimes do since there is now an element of coercion. Also included in the list of crimes of moral turpitude are pimping and pandering, mail fraud, rape, and auto theft. The crimes of pimping and pandering and rape clearly show antisocial behaviors that harm others. In addition, mail fraud and theft clearly show dishonesty. Prostitution, on the other hand, is a more complex crime that involves various other societal and psychological aspects that make it inaccurate to say that the person is dishonest or is trying to corrupt and harm others. Especially when we consider the issue of child prostitution and runaways, many adult women and men who are convicted for prostitution have usually been forced into the act while they were young or were otherwise persuaded to do so during a vulnerable time in their life. Moreover, because many prostitutes operate at the direction of another person, generally referred to as their “pimp”, there is another element of coercion that one has to consider before categorizing prostitution as a crime of moral turpitude. An alternative to not considering prostitution as a crime of moral turpitude is to create an exception for those who began engaging in prostitution as a minor or as a result of a relationship with a “pimp.”
There are many criminal cases where a material witness happens to have a misdemeanor conviction for prostitution. It is important to ensure that juries do not judge a witness’s credibility based on a crime that, in many instances, does not involve dishonesty or antisocial behavior.