Moral Turpitude…. What is it???

STEVE JONES, v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES, POLICE AND FIREMEN’S RETIREMENT SYSTEM,  October 18, 2019    New Jersey Appellate Division NOT Approved for Publication

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

This case involves a Millville police officer applying for a accidental disability pension which was denied due to several reasons.  However, the court undertook a review of what constitutes “Moral Turpitude” as it applies to police officer conduct within the course of their employment and this officer’s disciplinary history.  Nevertheless, the analysis clear covers all nursing and other licensee conduct in this state.

How does the New Jersey Court’s define “Moral Turpitude”.  This is a term used in many, if not all, New Jersey licensure statutes which are used to govern the behavior of New Jersey Licensees.  In other words, if you have ANY license issues by the State of New Jersey, other than a drivers license, then you have to conduct yourself in a manner that can not violate the ‘moral turpitude’ clause!  But what does that mean??

The court states:  “Moral turpitude” is defined as “[c]onduct that is contrary to justice, honesty, or morality; esp., an act that demonstrates depravity.” Black’s Law Dictionary 515 (11th ed. 2019). We previously defined “moral turpitude” as an “act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men, to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man[.]” State Bd. of Med. Exam’rs v. Weiner, 68 N.J. Super. 468, 483 (App. Div. 1961) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). We later stated that, “[g]uidelines for a determination with respect to moral turpitude, after essential findings of fact, may be found in our opinion in [Weiner] and the several cases and other authorities cited therein.” Gauli v. Bd. of Trs., Police & Firemen’s Ret. Sys., 143 N.J. Super. 480, 483 (App. Div. 1976). We added that, “[p]erhaps its real lesson is to be found in its acknowledgment of ‘the elasticity of the phrase and its necessarily adaptive character,’ and in its suggestion that its application be ‘reflective at all times of the common moral sense prevailing throughout the community.'” Ibid. (quoting Weiner, 68 N.J. Super. at 484).

IN Re: Medical License of Fanelli, the court (citing Weiner) examined whether manslaughter can be considered a violation of the medical licensure statute stated, “…. whether a manslaughter indictment, under any circumstances, could involve moral turpitude and, if so, whether  N.J.S.A. 45:9-16, which empowered the Board to revoke a license,1 permitted it to determine what constituted moral turpitude.  Id. at 483, 172 A.2d 661.   The Appellate Division observed:  What is ‘moral turpitude?’   It has been defined as an ‘act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellow men, to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man an man,’ ․ and as, ‘in its legal sense * * * everything done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.’   The United States Supreme Court, in connection with alien deportation proceedings, has held that, in addition to ‘crimes * * * of the gravest character,’ any crime in which fraud is an ingredient involves moral turpitude.   But the attempt to apply these definitions to specific criminal acts, especially in the context of license revocation proceedings, has demonstrated only the elasticity of the phrase and its necessarily adaptive character, reflective at all times of the common moral sense prevailing throughout the community.

[ (Emphasis added) (citations omitted).]

The Weiner court cited several out-of-state cases that found certain offenses warranted suspension of a medical license.   See Du Vall v. Board of Med. Exam’rs of Arizona, 49 Ariz. 329, 66 P.2d 1026 (Ariz.1937) (dispensing and prescribing narcotics for non-medical use);  Bancroft v. Board of Governors, 202 Okla. 108, 210 P.2d 666 (Okla.1949) (issuing check with insufficient funds with intent to defraud);  State Med. Bd. v. Rodgers, 190 Ark. 266, 79 S.W.2d 83 (Ark.1935);  (possession of counterfeit money with intent to circulate);  State Bd. of Med. Exam’rs v. Harrison, 92 Wash. 577, 159 P. 769 (Wash.1916) (sending notices and information advertising performance of criminal abortions);  Brun, supra, 191 A. at 240 (repeated acts of indecent exposure);  Craft v. Balderston, 58 Idaho 650, 78 P.2d 122 (Idaho 1938) (fraudulent claims of treatment of disabled veterans);  In re Kindschi, 52 Wash.2d 8, 319 P.2d 824 (Wash.1958) (willful attempt to evade federal income taxes).

New Jersey courts also have held that certain crimes involve moral turpitude.   See, e.g., In re Schmidt and Sons, 79 N.J. 344, 352, 399 A.2d 637 (1979) (crimes of fraud, dishonesty, and attempting to obstruct justice);  Berardi v. Rutter, 23 N.J. 485, 485, 129 A.2d 705 (1957) (falsification of tax return);  DeMoura v. Newark, 90 N.J.Super. 225, 229, 217 A.2d 19 (App.Div.1966) (filing false and fraudulent tax returns);  Fromm v. Bd. of Dirs. of Police and Firemen’s Ret. Sys., 81 N.J.Super. 138, 144-45, 195 A.2d 32 (App.Div.1963) (fixing parking tickets);  Raphalides v. New Jersey Dep’t Civil Serv., 80 N.J.Super. 407, 409, 194 A.2d 1 (App.Div.1963), certif. denied, 41 N.J. 597, 198 A.2d 444 (1964) (larceny);  O’Halloran v. DeCarlo, 156 N.J.Super. 249, 254, 383 A.2d 769 (Law Div.), aff’d, 162 N.J.Super. 174, 392 A.2d 615 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 79 N.J. 469, 401 A.2d 226 (1978), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 917, 99 S.Ct. 2837, 61 L.Ed.2d 284 (1979) (conspiring to prevent administration of state laws pertaining to public advertisement for bids and public bidding in public contracts).

However, in Matter of Meisnere, 471 A.2d 269, 270 (D.C.1984), the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia considered whether an attorney’s guilty plea pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. § 371, the same crime at issue in this appeal, involved a crime of moral turpitude that would subject the attorney to disbarment pursuant to D.C.Code § 11-2503(a).   There, the attorney pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, contrary to 18 U.S.C.A. § 371, and perjury, contrary to 18 U.S.C.A. § 1623.  Id. at 269-70.   The District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility found that the attorney was convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude, and therefore was subject to discipline.  Id. at 270.   Although the appeals court affirmed the attorney’s disbarment, it noted that

[a] violation of 18 U.S.C. [§ ] 371, the conspiracy statute[,] does not necessarily constitute moral turpitude per se since the statute prohibits both conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and conspiracy to defraud the United States.   In this case, however, the information to which Respondent pleaded guilty, specifically charged conspiracy knowingly to defraud the United States by obstructing the Treasury Department in its attempt to ascertain the assets of and the taxes due from one Leon Durwood Harvey.   Thus [,] the information to which [Meisnere] pleaded guilty necessarily required proof of intent to defraud.   Intent to defraud inherently involves moral turpitude.

[Id. at 270-71 (emphasis added).]

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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