Skip to content

Can You Join The Army With A Felony?

The Army, like all branches of the United States Military, has strict enlistment standards. Can you join the Army with a felony on your record? does the army take felons? It depends.

You must be tired of hearing, “It depends” but there’s really no clear-cut answer for most felonies.

Under Section 504 of Title 10, United States Code, individuals with a felony conviction are prohibited from serving in the United States Military unless they can obtain a moral waiver.

Having a felony will undoubtedly lessen your chances of being accepted, but joining up isn’t impossible unless your offense is one that is on the prohibited list of felonies.

If your felony isn’t one of the prohibited offenses, then you may be able to obtain a moral waiver to allow your application to proceed.

Obtaining a moral waiver is a difficult process, and the outcome is in no way guaranteed, but it’s the only way into the Army if you’ve got a felony.

Let’s dive in and cover some details for you.

Can You Join The Army With A Felony in 2024?

Can You Join The Army With A Felony

There are several factors that will affect your ability to join the United States Army with a felony.

The nature of your felony will play a huge role in your eligibility. With so many offenses falling under the felony umbrella, it should go without saying that some offenses are less serious than others.

While every eligible felony will require a moral waiver, some felonies will be easier to obtain a waiver for than others, and for some offenses, no waiver will be given under any circumstances.

The time that has passed since your felony took place is another important factor. If you can show that you’ve been an upstanding citizen since you completed your sentence, then the Army will have a better ability to assess your character than if you’ve left prison very recently.

The needs of the Army at the time of your application will also affect your eligibility.

During periods of conflict when the Army has an acute need for recruits, waivers are easier to obtain. Conversely, during peacetime when the Army is able to comfortably meet its recruiting needs, they are less likely to issue waivers for felonies unless you can show that you’ll be an asset to the service.

To be eligible for enlistment in the Army, you must have finished any probation or parole, and you can’t have any criminal matters still pending. Custodial sentences must be completed prior to beginning your application.

You’ll need to be honest about your felony and any other convictions on your record because the Army will carry out a thorough background screening.

You should know that as of 2022, the United States Army is actually facing an enlistment crisis and they are lowering some requirements for a limited period. At the time of writing the Army has stated that applicants able to ship to basic training by October 1st will not need to have a high school diploma or GED. Tattoos on hands are also acceptable at this time.

What this means in terms of their willingness to issue moral waivers has yet to be seen, but during a recruitment crisis, you’ll have a better chance than you normally would.

These rule changes appear to be temporary and if the Army improves its enlistment rate, they will probably return to its normal standards which are the ones we’ll focus on for the rest of this article.

Related Content: Can You Join The Marines With A Felony?

Why Sound Moral Character Matters To The Army

The Army, like all branches of the military, has strict enlistment standards covering medical and physical fitness, educational attainment and aptitude, and moral character.

The job of the Army is to maintain the security of the United States and every member of the service shoulders an immense responsibility.

For the service to function, the Army needs to be composed of men and women who will follow orders, maintain discipline and contribute positively to morale so that units function as a cohesive whole with no weak links.

Individuals who have broken the law in the past have already shown a disinclination to follow rules, and the Army is understandably wary of admitting recruits who could cause trouble and threaten the success of operations.

When you’re in the Army, you have to rely on your fellow soldiers and they have to rely on you. Lives depend on this. So integrity matters a great deal.

This can be summed up as service to self or service to others.

In the military, it’s all about service to others. At the time you commit a crime, you’re all about service to self.

What Are Prohibited Felonies For Joining The Army?

While it’s possible to apply for a waiver for some felony offenses, certain offenses are completely prohibited and are not eligible for a moral waiver.

If you have a felony conviction for any of the following offenses, you cannot join the United States Army:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual abuse
  • Incest
  • Any other sexual offence
  • An offence that requires an individual to register as a sex offender
  • Domestic battery

These offenses are barred across all branches of the military. It doesn’t matter how long ago the offense took place, or how rehabilitated you are. There is no way into the Army or any branch of the military with one of these offenses on your record.

What Felonies Need A Waiver To Join The Army?

What Felonies Need A Waiver To Join The Army?

All felony offenses are considered to be Major Misconduct Offenses for military purposes and therefore will need a waiver, but some offenses will make obtaining that waiver more difficult than others.

The Army has a reputation for approving more moral waivers than other branches of the military, but even so, you’ll face some difficulties if you have any of the following on your record:

  • More than one felony conviction
  • A felony with more than 3 other offenses (ex. traffic offenses)
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Bribery
  • Carjacking
  • Hate crimes
  • Mail crimes
  • Murder
  • Terrorist threats
  • Criminal libel
  • Kidnap
  • Grand theft auto
  • Extorsion
  • Embezzlement
  • Arson
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Breaking and entering
  • Drug trafficking or selling drugs
  • Carrying a weapon on school grounds
  • Forgery
  • Grand larceny
  • Credit card fraud
  • Indecent assault
  • Wrongful possession or use of narcotics or other habit-forming drugs
  • Negligent or vehicular homicide
  • Perjury
  • Rioting
  • Robbery
  • 3 or more DUIs in the last 5 years

If your felony is for a less serious offense, you may have an easier time when you apply for a waiver. Both in getting approval for the waiver and convincing your recruiter to recommend you for a waiver in the first place.

Felonies Aren’t The Only Roadblocks You Could Encounter

While all felonies fall into the category of Major Misconduct, other less serious offenses could also cause you problems.

Many misdemeanor offenses fall into the category of Misconduct as far as Army regulations are concerned.

Ordinarily, most single misdemeanor offenses won’t require a waiver, but having multiple misdemeanors on your record would demonstrate a pattern of behavior and would therefore require a waiver.

If you have a misdemeanor on your record, along with your felony, you will need to seek advice from an Army recruiter to find out if you’ll need a waiver for the misdemeanor as well as the felony.

There’s a long list of offenses that fall into the Misconduct category. Here are a few of them as an example:

  • Criminal trespass
  • Desecration of a grave
  • DUI
  • Credit card fraud under $500
  • Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Looting
  • Mailing indecent material, including via email
  • Joy riding
  • Vandalism

Some traffic offenses on your record will also be a problem.

  • Unpaid traffic violations
  • More than 6 traffic violations resulted in fines of over $100 per violation
  • 3 or more other minor convictions

See Also: Do Felons Get Drafted?

How Do You Obtain A Moral Waiver To Join The Army?

The first step in obtaining a waiver is having your recruiter agree to start the process on your behalf. The recruiter is under no obligation to do this and they have to have good reason to believe that you’ll be an asset to the Army if they let you join.

If the Army has plenty of high-quality potential recruits to choose from who don’t require any waivers, then you’ll find it difficult to persuade a recruiter to put you forward for a waiver.

If you’ve achieved a high score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, your recruiter may feel that you should be given a chance.

So that’s the first task. Getting a recruiter in your corner.

You have to apply for the moral waiver and the application needs to be supported with documentation from your court case and parole officer (if applicable). You’ll also need to submit a statement about your offense and make a case that shows you’re a reformed character. To bolster your case, you should gather character references from as many pillars of your community as you can.

These community members will need to know you. They can’t write a character reference for a stranger. So it’s worth delaying your application until you’ve established or reestablished some relationships.

If you’re a Christian, speak to your pastor. If you’re of another faith, approach your elders. Other people that can act as powerful character references include law enforcement, town council or other local government members, school and college faculty, business owners, any charity or volunteer organizations you’re involved with, and your employer, or your past employer.

Once you have all of the documents you need, your recruiter will submit your waiver application, then you’ll need to wait until the commanding officer makes a decision.

Other reasons you should delay your enlistment application include having tattoos removed if you have tattoos showing above your collar or below your wrists, or tattoos anywhere on your body that is obscene, hateful, or racist.

If you take illegal drugs, you will need to get clean before you apply. You’ll have to take a drug test for your Army physical, and could be required to take further drug tests at any time. A positive drug test will disqualify you.

If there’s a possibility that your felony could be expunged or reduced to a misdemeanor, you should look into getting that done. Even though the offenses are still visible to the Army when they carry out their background screen, an expunged or reduced felony won’t stand in your way to the same degree as a felony on your record.

What Happens If The Waiver Is Refused?

If the Army refuses your waiver, then you won’t be able to proceed any further. There is no appeals process you can go through. Their word on this is final.

Because the Army is thought to be the military branch most willing to accommodate a felony, you’ll probably receive rejections from other branches of the military if you decide to apply to them without changing anything.

Before you reapply to the Army or to another branch of the military, leave no stone unturned in improving your case.

If your record can be expunged, get started on the process.

Make the connections you’ll need for character references if you couldn’t get them before.

Study so you can get a higher score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. If your current employer offers any tuition assistance, start a college course and get some credits under your belt.

Get involved with a volunteer organization and do some good for others in need. Working with a veterans charity could be an option, as it would show respect for service personnel. And you could have an opportunity to get a great reference from someone with connections because you’ll interact with active military personnel who are involved with your charity.

Clean up your credit record. Get your tattoos removed. Leave drugs and alcohol use in the past.

The Army will have a record of your previous application and if you can show that you’ve made an immense effort since your last attempt to enlist, it could tip things in your favor. And even if it doesn’t, everything you’ve done in preparation for a second attempt to join the Army will be a credit to you in whatever you focus on next.


Trying to join the Army with a felony on your record will not be easy, but it’s not impossible either, as long as your offense isn’t on the prohibited list.

You’ll need to prepare thoroughly before you apply for a moral waiver to give yourself the best possible chance. Speak with a recruiter at your local office and get a realistic assessment of your eligibility and the steps you can take to improve your prospects.

Recommended: Can You Join The Military With A Felony?