One of the core requirements for naturalization is a showing of good moral character ("GMC") during the statutory period, which in most cases, is five years. Any criminal conviction or even arrest during that period could potentially affect a showing of good moral character. The crime of criminal mischief is one such offense that could lead to a negative finding by an Immigration Services Officer ("ISO") adjudicating the application.
What constitutes the crime of criminal mischief?
In New Jersey, criminal mischief under NJSA 2C:17-3 occurs when an individual:
1) Purposely or knowingly damages tangible property of another or damages tangible property of another recklessly or negligently in the employment of fire, explosives or other dangerous means listed in subsection a of N.J.S. 2C:17-2; or
2) Purposely, knowingly, or recklessly tampers with tangible property of another so as to endanger person or property, including the damaging or destroying of a rental premises by a tenant in retaliation for institution of eviction proceedings.
b. Grading. (1) Criminal mischief is a crime of the third degree if the actor purposely or knowingly causes pecuniary loss of $2000.00 or more.
2) Criminal mischief is a crime of the fourth degree if the actor causes pecuniary loss in excess of $500.00 but less than $2000.00. It is a disorderly persons offense if the actor causes pecuniary loss of $500.00 or less.
3) Criminal mischief is a crime of the third degree if the actor damages, defaces, eradicates, alters, receives, releases or causes the loss of any research property used by the research facility, or otherwise causes physical disruption to the functioning of the research facility. The term "physical disruption" does not include any lawful activity that results from public, governmental, or research facility employee reaction to the disclosure of information about the research facility.
Note: only part of the statute is given here. The statute is actually much longer and there are several extra grading provisions not recited here. In short, however,
this crime covers a broad range of conduct from defacing property to breaking a window in someone's house to intentionally using an object to scratch someone's car.
Possible Effect on Citizenship
Any person charged with or convicted of criminal mischief should consult with an immigration attorney to assess the impact of such a conviction. In terms of citizenship, this type of offense could certainly pose problems. For one thing, the crime could possibly be classified as a crime involving moral turpitude. A crime involving moral turpitude is a crime that "involves willful conduct that is morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong, the essence of which is a reckless, evil or malicious intent." Even if not, an immigration officer could possibly determine this sort of conduct to be an "unlawful act" which reflects poorly on the person's character. If the offense is disposed of in municipal court in New Jersey, be aware that a municipal court judge is empowered to impose a fine of $1000 and/or imprisonment in the country jail up to six months. If the defendant is sentenced to the maximum of 180 days, he or she could be conditionally barred from naturalization on the basis of the imprisonment alone. Naturally, the consequences could be even worse if the matter is disposed of in Superior Court. For an indictable offense, a Superior Court Judge could impose anywhere from 18 months for a fourth degree offense to five years for a third degree offense. In this type of scenario, the defendant could be exposed not only to a possible allegation of a crime involving moral turpitude but also real prison time that could constitute a ground of denial in and of itself.
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