Complaints Related to Moral Turpitude
Missouri law enforcement officers are subject to discipline if they commit an act of moral turpitude while on duty or under color of law. Moral turpitude complaints are distinct from complaints alleging an officer committed a crime. Criminal charges are not necessary for POST to pursue these allegations. Officers may face a moral turpitude allegation in addition to another alleged cause for discipline, including commission of a criminal offense.
Officers faced with these complaints may not understand what POST is alleging or how to respond. If you are a Missouri law enforcement officer facing an allegation from POST that you committed an act of moral turpitude, contact the attorneys at Dolley Law, LLC today for experienced and effective legal representation.
What are “Acts of Moral Turpitude”?
Under Missouri law, POST may “discipline any peace officer licensee who has committed any act while on active duty or under color of law that involves moral turpitude.” § 590.080(3) RSMo. Missouri courts have defined an act of moral turpitude as “an act of baseness, vileness, or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowman or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man; everything ‘done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, and good morals.’” In re Frick, 694 S.W.2d 473, 479 (Mo. banc 1985).
An act of moral turpitude may or may not also be a crime. Director of Department of Public Safety v. Edward J. Locke, No. 12-1786PO, 2013 WL 1857658 at *3 (Mo. Admin. Hrg. Comm., Mar. 22, 2013). In relation to moral turpitude, courts group crimes into three categories: (1) crimes that necessarily involve moral turpitude; (2) crimes that definitely do not involve moral turpitude; and (3) crimes that “may be saturated with moral turpitude, yet do not involve it necessarily.” Brehe v. Missouri Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education, 213 S.W.3d 720, 725 (Mo. Ct. App. 2007).
The first category typically involves crimes such as first degree murder, rape, and first degree child endangerment. Id. With such crimes, “[a]n inquiry into the circumstances is unnecessary to create authority for discipline.” Id. The third category, however, requires consideration of the “related factual circumstances” of the offense to determine whether moral turpitude is involved. Id. (reversing Board discipline order for failing to consider the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime).
Actions that do not constitute crimes may still involve moral turpitude and subject an officer to discipline. Locke, 2013 WL 1857658 at *4. Actions that are contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals qualify as acts of moral turpitude. Id. These include, for example, violating probation or engaging in sexual acts with a crime victim while on duty. See, e.g., Director of Department of Public Safety v. Mark I. Daniels, No. 15-1475PO, 2017 WL 1041821 at *3 (Mo. Admin. Hrg. Comm., Feb. 3, 2017); Locke, 2013 WL 1857658 at *4.
Active Duty or Under Color of Law
POST may only discipline officers who have committed acts of moral turpitude if they are done while on active duty or under color of law. § 590.080(3), RSMo. An officer is on “active duty” if he or she is working as a police officer or possesses police authority. Locke, 2013 WL 1857658 at *2; Director of Department of Public Safety v. Marcus Vangross Hopkins, No. 12-2225PO, 2013 WL 4517193 at *2 (Mo. Admin. Hrg. Comm., July 3, 2013).
An officer acts under color of law “(1) when a police officer undertakes purely private action while invoking his authority as a police officer, or as a result of his role as a police officer, and (2) when an off-duty police officer undertakes an official duty.” Director of Department of Public Safety v. Theresa M. Bourbon, No. 08-0040PO, 2008 WL 5630922 at *2 (Mo. Admin. Hrg. Comm., Sept. 10, 2008). “Whether the police officer is off duty or out of uniform is not controlling in determining whether the conduct was under color of law.” Id. Courts consider factors such as whether the officer displayed a badge, displayed a uniform, used a marked police vehicle, or made other assertions of police authority. Id.
Discipline for Moral Turpitude Complaints
To establish cause for discipline based on an act of moral turpitude, POST must file a complaint with the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC). An officer accused of misconduct has the right to representation by an attorney, can seek discovery from POST, and can subpoena and depose witnesses. The officer then has the right to a trial-type hearing before the AHC in which evidence is presented and witnesses testify and are cross examined. Motions may also be filed and ruled upon. Following the hearing, each side presents written arguments and other briefing to the Commissioner, who then issues a written ruling. If cause for discipline is found, a second hearing is held to determine what discipline should be imposed on the officer’s license. This can range from probation to suspension to revocation.
Officers who receive a complaint from POST alleging they committed an act of moral turpitude need representation from an attorney with experience in both criminal and administrative law. These cases often involve complex legal arguments and detailed research, along with intensive factual investigation. Understanding the substantive law and the realities of police work are crucial to a successful defense.
If you are notified that a complaint has been made against your Missouri peace officer license, contact Dolley Law, LLC at (314) 645-4100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.