Can You Join the Military With a Felony?

By Teo Spengler - Updated March 08, 2018
Military boots army walk the parade ground

Some consider serving in the military part of their civic duty, but the military branches have physical, mental and moral standards that recruits must comply with in order to qualify. Can people with a criminal record still hope to enlist in the Army, Navy or Air Force and fulfill their civic duty? It all depends on the circumstances of the conviction.

Tip

The military prefers to hire recruits without criminal records. But you may be able to get a waiver for misdemeanor or civic convictions, and even, sometimes, for a felony, depending on the circumstances of the conviction.

Spilling the Beans

If you want to get into the military but you have a criminal record, the worst thing you can do is to try to hide it from the recruiter. She will do a background check, and your records will all turn up.

What exactly do you have to reveal? You have to tell your recruiter about all arrests, whether or not charges were filed, all charges, whether or not they resulted in convictions and all convictions in your past. This includes crimes that have been sealed because you were a minor or even expunged. Under federal law, you have to reveal all such records on enlistment and security clearance paperwork. If you don't, it is a felony itself.

Waivers for Crimes

Once your arrest and conviction history are before the recruiter, a decision will be made as to whether you are eligible for a waiver. You may be able to get a waiver for civil offenses, misdemeanors, minor charges and, maybe, one felony charge. The more violent the crime with which you were charged, the less chance you have to get a waiver.

If the total number of offenses is significant, it can work against getting a waiver, since the military can view it as a sign of low moral character. If you have one, non-violent felony and never were arrested again, that might work for you in terms of the potential for waiver.

Crimes That Cannot Get Waived

Some crimes that are not likely to be waived include larceny, assault, rape, drug-related crimes and murder. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the application process disqualifies you, as does a prior bad conduct or dishonorable discharge from military service.

You will be disqualified on moral grounds if you were convicted three or more times for driving while intoxicated, drugged or impaired in the five years before your application. Likewise, you are not eligible for a waiver for habitual cannabis use or dependence.

About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.

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