Roberto Osuna, Immigration Law, and Crimes of Moral Turpitude

Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow is a very smart man. There’s not much dispute about that – he has an MBA (from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management) and degrees in economics and engineering. He’s developed a reputation for being well-prepared.

So after the club acquired Roberto Osuna for Ken Giles at the deadline, columnist Lance Zierlein was well justified when he wrote that “[t]here is no way the Astros haven’t done their homework on Osuna.” And while the organization’s public-relations department appears to have confused the word willfully with willingly (otherwise, this statement regarding Osuna would have a markedly different meaning), even Luhnow himself noted that his own office’s due diligence on Osuna was “unprecedented.” There’s no reason to doubt him.

That said, there are certain outcomes for which no amount of preparation can ultimately account — and that’s relevant to Osuna’s future with the Astros, because, while the right-hander has been punished by Major League Baseball, his criminal case in Canada remains pending. And the outcome of that case could have real consequences on Osuna’s career.

Osuna, for his part, doesn’t want to talk about it, “declin[ing] to provide specifics about the incident” according to ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez. There are multiple reasons why Osuna would refuse to address the charge. To avoid conflicts with an ongoing case, for example. Or to avoid revisiting an episode about which he’s ashamed.

Finally, it could be part of a legal strategy. As Gonzalez notes in his piece, Osuna’s attorney, Domenic Basile, “has entered a not guilty plea on Osuna’s behalf and is reportedly seeking a peace bond that would essentially drop the charges in exchange for good behavior.”

Basile used similar language last week, saying that “I think he’s remorseful that the circumstances are what they are, but at the end of the day in the criminal court… his intention is to plead not guilty.”

And Basile continued to make the distinction about the cause of Osuna’s remorse in an interview with Buster Olney, suggesting that it was a result of the circumstances and not any particularly crime committed by his client.

It’s entirely possible, and even likely, that it’s in Osuna’s best legal interests to plead not guilty, either because the case against him can’t be proven in court, or certain evidence is inadmissible, or any of a dozen other reasons. When Jung Ho Kang, for example, pleaded guilty in his DUI case in South Korea, that plea ended up costing him his visa.  Osuna could end up in the same boat, because domestic-violence crimes can be (but aren’t always) considered “crimes of moral turpitude” that bar a person from entry into the United States. So it’s a pretty big risk that the Astros assumed when they dealt for him, because there’s a realistic chance Osuna loses his visa and can’t pitch for them if he’s found to have committed such a crime.

So what, you ask, is moral turpitude? Fortunately, we have the Board of Immigration Appeals to explain:

Unfortunately, that explanation isn’t particularly helpful. In fact, the ABA Guidebook on this says — and this is not a joke — “Because nothing is ever simple with immigration law, the terms ‘conviction,’ ‘moral turpitude,’ and ‘single scheme of criminal misconduct’ are terms of art.” And — this is also not a joke — the U.S. Supreme Court cites that Guidebook in figuring out what those terms mean.

But there’s an easier way to figure this out than to look at what a “vicious motive” or a “corrupt mind” means, flowery language aside. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said in Grageda v. INS that a crime of moral turpitude took place “when a person willfully beats his or her spouse severely enough to cause a traumatic condition[.]” Since then, the Ninth Circuit has tended to decide the issue on the basis of whether or not the statute that was violated requires intent. And the BIA seems to follow that reasoning, at least generally.

So there are two big questions here: first, what did Osuna actually do? And second, what law did he violate? As to the first, even the Astros, for all their due diligence, don’t seem to know — or won’t suggest as much publicly. Again, per Gonzalez:

The Astros say they truly don’t know the details about what took place between Osuna and the alleged victim, which creates its share of challenges.

“We really don’t know what to think or what to say or what to do and how to absorb all of this,” [Manager A.J.] Hinch said. “But it’s right in front of us, and we will do our best as a team and as a family and a group to help him navigate through this, to help ourselves to navigate through this. My hope for him is that he does take some of this culture, this vibe and the character on our team and absorb it to himself.”

As for the law, there’s actually no criminal domestic-violence charge in Canada, as Eric Macramalla explains. (It’s worth noting, however, that there’s currently an order of protection in place prohibiting Osuna from “coming into contact with the alleged victim or coming within 100 metres of the downtown Toronto building that is listed as his home address.”) There, are also laws against domestic violence specifically in multiple provinces. Instead, Osuna has been charged with assault under laws you can read here. But while Basile confirmed it’s an assault charge for “domestic abuse,” he didn’t elaborate.

However, we’ve noted that Basile is trying to work out a plea deal. So this may come down to two things we don’t know: under what law Osuna ends up being convicted or pleading guilty, and what he actually did. At this point, we know neither of these things. It’s surprising, given just how important the details are, that the Astros acquired Osuna without seeming to know what happened. Or, otherwise, there’s information they haven’t shared publicly. What seems to be the case, however, is that the Astros have acquired, at a non-negligible cost, a player with a domestic-violence arrest — and, as a result, an equally uncertain future. Maybe they turn out to be right, at least from a baseball perspective. If Osuna is convicted, there’s a chance the Astros get nothing at all out of this acquisition past this year. There’s more risk here than just a public-relations backlash.

Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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3 years ago

Good Article Sheryl. I appreciate that you report on what is known and not speculation on what is unknown.

3 years ago
Reply to  SacaLaCorrea

why? because dumb readers will take it the wrong way?

3 years ago
Reply to  awy

i should say readers of moral turpitude, but that is not sufficiently offensive towards this particular group.

in any case, sheryl can write whatever she wants to write about.