To enlist in the army, applicants must demonstrate strong moral character. Generally, this means not having a history of criminal activity. However, having a criminal record may not automatically disqualify an applicant, particularly if the offense wasn't a serious crime and a good amount of time has passed since it occurred. Petty theft committed as a minor may fall under this category. However, an applicant may still need to obtain a waiver from the army before he is permitted to enlist.
Petty Theft Defined
Petty theft, also referred to as larceny, is the act of taking another person's property without consent. For example, if Jane left her purse in a gym locker and Mary took the purse without Jane's consent, then Mary committed petty theft. Although state laws differ, petty theft is often a misdemeanor crime. However, if the value of the stolen property exceeds a certain value, the crime graduates to grand theft in many states and may be charged as a felony. For example, in California, if a person steals property valued at less than $950, he is guilty of petty theft. However, if the value is greater than $950, he is guilty of grand theft and the prosecutor has the option of charging the crime as either a misdemeanor or felony.
Moral character is a component of the Army application process. The applicant's background is thoroughly investigated, including his criminal record. Some crimes automatically disqualify an applicant from service, such as rape and sexual abuse of a minor. Petty theft is not one of the crimes that is automatically disqualifying. The more severe the crime, the less likely it is that the army will permit an applicant to enlist. Therefore, felonies are likely to get significant scrutiny. On the other hand, the army may overlook certain minor crimes, particularly if a substantial amount of time has passed since the applicant committed the crime and if the applicant has no other crimes on his record.
Minor Record Not Sealed
In general, juvenile criminal records are sealed to the public, typically at the request of the individual who was charged with the crime. This means the records are treated as if they don't exist, so that an adult with a juvenile record can legally answer, "no" when asked whether he was arrested or convicted of a particular crime on an employment application or during a job interview. However, juvenile records are not sealed to the government, which means the army can see this information when a person applies for enlistment. Additionally, persons applying to the army must disclose any and all criminal history. This includes arrests even if the charges were dismissed or the applicant was found not guilty, as well as all convictions, regardless of the applicant's age at the time.
In some cases, army applicants with a criminal record can seek a waiver. Moral waivers allow individuals convicted of misdemeanors and some felonies to enlist in the army if they're approved. Waivers are not automatic; an applicant must request one and the army decides on a case-by-case basis. The applicant requesting the waiver will need to discuss the details of his criminal offense and may also have to submit letters of recommendation from community leaders, commending his character and suitability for the army.
- Belmont University: Definition of Petty Theft/Larceny
- Official California Legislative Information: Penal Code, Section 484-502.9
- Law Office of Joel M. Mann: Petit Larceny or Petit Theft
- Army.com: Disqualifiers
- Children's Law Center of Massachusetts: How Your Criminal History May Affect You When Enlisting in the Army
- Military: An Arrest Record Can Keep You From Enlisting
- Army Real: Can I Join the Army With a Felony?
- New York Times: Moral Waivers and the Military
- Military: Military Accepting More Ex-Cons
- Nolo: Sealing Juvenile Court Records
- Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images