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Citizen 'Denaturalized' for Burglary After Taking Oath

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on March 09, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Teng Jiao Zhou emigrated to America in 1985 and applied to become a naturalized citizen in 1993. On the surface, it looked he was doing everything right: he attended his naturalization interview, filled out the Form N-400 paperwork, and passed his naturalization exam.

But behind the scenes, Zhou had been convicted for robbery soon after he emigrated. His story, as portrayed in the Ninth Circuit case United States of America v. Teng Jiao Zhou, makes it clear that anyone who has questions reflecting poorly on their moral character may find themselves denaturalized citizens of the United States.

Good Moral Character

As naturalized citizens know, some of the requirements to becoming naturalized involve the applicant's proving good moral character. Under the relevant section of 8 U.S.C. sec. 1427, a person is presumptively not of good moral character if he happens to fall into any of several enumerated categories of committed acts, or failing that, into one of the "catch-all" provision scenarios outlined in section 1101(f).

Extenuating Circumstances

Under that section, 1101(f) contains the "extenuating circumstances" provision. This was the legal issue that had to be determined.

Zhou got into business with Tong and apparently the relationship "broke bad." Zhou assaulted Tong, threatened him, and stole from him. He was convicted for multiple crimes of moral turpitude on November 21, 1994. What is interesting in this case was that he committed the crimes in March 8-9 of 1994, but managed to become a U.S. Citizen before his conviction in June, 1994. Twenty years passed and Zhou committed no further misconduct. Then on March 25, 1993, the government filed a complaint for Zhou's removal citing his 1994 convictions for crimes of moral turpitude.

In court, Zhou did not deny that he had committed a crime of moral turpitude within the five year statutory period -- but he argued vigorously instead that his crime was attenuated by "extenuating circumstances" as outlined in sec. 1101(f). The court applied precedent and found that the intent of this language was to focus on the surrounding circumstances of the offender's guilt, looking to see if there are any facts that might "palliate of lessen" the defendant's guilt.

The Circuit was not convinced that Zhou had proved any such extenuating circumstances. Zhou's only defense was to characterize his conduct as arising out of a mere "business disagreement." But where Zhou saw a business disagreement, the Circuit saw a serious infraction of conduct. Without any additionally showing of palliative facts to bolster Zhou's case, Zhou failed completely in proving extenuating circumstances, and thus deportation was proper.

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