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The Ninth Circuit held that a conviction under California Penal Code § 647(b) for soliciting an act of prostitution is categorically a crime involving moral turpitude. (The opening paragraph of the decision is misleading, since the body of the opinion makes clear the petitioner is challenging whether he is deportable for two crimes involving moral turpitude--not the denial of voluntary departure.)

No published Board decision holds that soliciting a prostitute is a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT), but the panel relied on a 61 year-old decision that found the underlying act of prostitution is a CIMT, Matter of W., 4 I&N Dec. 401, 401-02 (CO 1951). (The Ninth Circuit mistakenly identified it as a Board of Immigration Appeals decision, but it actually is a Central Office decision.) The court also relied on a 46 year-old decision holding that renting a room for prostitution is a CIMT. Lambert, 11 I&N Dec. 340, 342 (BIA 1965). The panel found it could not distinguish solicitation from either of those offenses.

The reliance on hoary old cases like these is troublesome, particularly for a definition that is dependent on contemporary mores. Doubtless the adjudicators who decided the cited cases in 1951 and 1965 would consider most of what is on network television today to be morally turpitudinous. Certainly views on prostitution have evolved--from an emphasis on morality to an emphasis on protecting against exploitive conditions.

More significantly, it is hard to say that adult prostitution is a crime involving moral turpitude when it is legal and regulated in so many developed countries, including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland, and several other European countries. Apparently these countries do not view the profession as intrinsically evil as is generally the case with crimes involving moral turpitude. Indeed, there is no U.S. federal law that generally prohibits prostitution and it is legal in some counties in Nevada. How can something be legal in one state (not to mention other highly developed countries) yet be morally turpitudinous? The panel decision and the ancient cases it cited do not grapple with that question.

Read the decision at