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Can You Join The Military With A Felony?

So, can you join the military with a felony?

real question; can felons join the military? Let’s find out.

Life in the military isn’t for everyone, but those who can handle the tough conditions receive unparalleled training and develop the character traits that will make them an asset to any civilian organization.

While you’re in the military, you get housed, fed, trained, and paid. There are so many problems that felons often face solved in one stroke… if you can get in.

Can You Join The Military With A Felony in 2024?

Can You Join The Military With A Felony

Section 504 of Title 10, United States Code, prohibits individuals convicted of felony offenses from joining any branch of the United States Military. However, in some cases, a waiver for the felony may be obtained which will allow enlistment.

Each branch of the military has strict entry requirements and with your felony, there’s a strong possibility that you may not be eligible to enlist.

Some types of a felony are grounds for disqualification right away, while others require a moral waiver before you can join.

You should also know that if you’re still on parole or probation, you aren’t eligible to join. The same applies if you’re still serving a prison sentence or have pending criminal proceedings.

The Department of Defense states in its Qualification Standards for Enlistment, Appointment, and Induction manual (page 8) that, “The Military Services are responsible for the defense of the Nation and should not be viewed as a source of rehabilitation for those who have not subscribed to the legal and moral standards of society-at-large”.

As you can see from that statement, it’s not just the fact that you broke the law that will stand in your way, it’s the moral failings you demonstrated by committing the offense.

Whichever branch of the armed forces you’re hoping to join – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Space Force – you need to have a sound moral character.

With a felony on your record, you’ve demonstrated that in the past you didn’t have a sound moral character. And you’ll have to prove that you’ve changed and that now you’re a pillar of integrity.

Interesting Read: Can You Join The Marines With A Felony?

Why does character matter so much?

In the military, the success of a mission rests with the men and women tasked to carry it out, following orders and newer wavering in their commitment to seeing it through no matter what.

In the military, lives depend on you. On how you think, and on how you act.

Of course, the military knows that everyone is capable of making mistakes, and that’s why a moral waiver is a possibility for some offenses.

Military Background Screening

When you apply to join the military, you’ll undergo an extremely thorough background screening. Many civilian employers carry out background screening on job applicants, but those checks are often limited in what they can discover.

With the Military background check, nothing is off-limits. Every offense – felony or misdemeanor – every arrest, charge, plea bargain, and diversion is open to them. Your juvenile record isn’t sealed. Expungements that are usually hidden are revealed.

Your credit record is also scrutinized because a lot can be learned about your character from the way you handle debt (and because you need to be able to cover your debt with your military wages).

On your enlistment application you are instructed to list all offenses which resulted in an arrest or charges, and failing to list your offenses is a federal offense.

The military background checks are carried out to screen out applicants who could turn into disciplinary cases or present a security risk, disrupt morale, and/or jeopardize military missions.

Which Felony Offenses Disqualify You from Joining The Military?

Which Felony Offenses Disqualify You from Joining The Military?

The United States Military considers all felonies to be Major Misconduct Offenses. To know for certain if your offenses will make you ineligible for service, you’ll need to talk with a recruiter from the branch of the military that you’re interested in joining.

All branches of the military absolutely prohibit the enlistment of an individual convicted of any of the following offenses, and no waivers will be given for these offenses:

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

Each branch of the military has its own list of other offenses that it won’t waive, but in general, it will be difficult to obtain a moral waiver for the following offenses. And without a moral waiver, you won’t meet the enlistment eligibility requirements.

  • 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 (firearm) on school grounds
  • Forgery
  • Grand larceny
  • Credit card fraud over $500
  • Indecent assault
  • Wrongful possession or use of narcotics or other habit-forming drugs
  • Negligent or vehicular homicide
  • Perjury
  • Rioting
  • Robbery
  • DUI
  • 3 or more DUIs in the last 5 years

If your felony isn’t on that list, then you’ll have a better chance of obtaining a moral waiver so that you meet the eligibility requirements for joining.

Even so, obtaining a moral waiver isn’t an easy process.

Non Felony Offenses That Require A Moral Waiver

Having a felony on your record isn’t the only obstacle that you’ll need to overcome if you’ve been convicted of other lesser offenses.

Some misdemeanors could require a moral waiver depending on how the military classifies them, and if you’ve got multiple misdemeanor convictions on your record, you’ll definitely need to obtain a waiver.

Examples include:

  • Simple assault
  • Public intoxication
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Littering
  • Harassment
  • Contempt of court
  • Failure to appear

In addition, if you have traffic offenses along with a felony on your record, you could be ineligible. The problematic traffic offenses are:

  • Unpaid traffic violations
  • More than 6 traffic violations where the fines exceed $100 per violation
  • 3 or more other minor convictions

What’s The Process for Obtaining A Moral Waiver For A Felony?

You’ve got your work cut out for you if you’re determined to try to join the military with a felony. But it’s worth giving it your best shot because a stint in the military could give you everything you need to get your life on track.

First things first. What exactly is a waiver?

A moral waiver (also called a conduct waiver) exempts you from meeting one of the eligibility requirements for enlistment in the United States Military.

In addition to requiring moral conduct waivers for criminal offenses, the military also requires a waiver for disqualifying medical conditions, a waiver if the applicant tests positive for drugs, and a waiver if an applicant has more than the permitted number of dependents.

Without the applicable waiver, you can’t meet the enlistment requirements and your application will be disqualified.

Who Issues the Waiver?

Waivers may be issued after a thorough review of your application and your criminal record. It may be possible for some offenses to receive a waiver after review by the Recruiting Battalion Commander, while others will need to be approved at a higher level of command.

Your recruiter cannot issue a waiver, but they can offer advice about the likelihood that you’ll be granted a waiver, and they will inform you of the process you’ll need to follow.

How To Obtain A Waiver

In the first instance, your recruiter has to agree to initiate the waiver application for you. This means that your right to apply for a waiver isn’t automatic. Your recruiter must believe that you’ll be an asset to the United States Military, and you’ll need to be prepared to demonstrate this.

The higher you score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, the more likely you’ll be considered to be someone who will be an asset to the service. Being willing to accept any career option will also be a positive factor because some military career paths have fewer applicants than others.

The issuance of a waiver depends on the needs of the military at the time. When the military has plenty of applicants, they will be less likely to feel a need to take a risk on an individual with a criminal background.

In the early 2000s, standards were relaxed and many individuals with serious criminal records received waivers, enabling them to participate in the operations underway during those years. However, the military isn’t struggling for recruits today, so they can be more selective.

You’ll need to prepare a personal statement about the offense and about your conduct since that time. Your waiver application will also require character references from respected members of your community.

These can be church leaders, business owners, school or college faculty, law enforcement officials, members of local government, etc.

When you have all of the necessary information, you can submit your application with the help of your recruiter.

You’ll need to wait several weeks for the waiver decision, and if they issue the waiver, you’ll be able to complete your enlistment and begin your career in the military.

If your waiver application is turned down, then that’s the end of the road with that branch of the military. There is no appeals process, the decision is final.

However, being turned down by one branch of the military doesn’t mean you can’t apply to every other branch. As we already mentioned, each branch has their own requirements and its own recruiting needs. So if you were turned down by the Air force or Marines, you might fare better when you apply to the Army.

Another path you could consider is applying to join the Army National Guard. While most service in the Army National Guard is part-time, you’ll still receive valuable training and tuition assistance for a college degree. Plus, being an active Guard member will be a huge positive when you apply for civilian jobs.

Read Also: What Military Branch Accepts Felons?

Steps To Take Before Applying For A Waiver

You’ve only got one shot at your waiver, so you need to make sure you present as the best candidate possible before you apply.

You’ll need a high school diploma or GED to join the military. However, the military only accepts a small number of applicants with a GED each year. You’ll need to ace the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam to bump up your chances if you don’t have a high school diploma. For this, you should complete as many practice questions as you can, and study up on the subjects you’re weak in.

You should be drug-free. If you take any drugs at all, do what you need to do to get off them before you apply.

Look into getting any disqualifying tattoos removed. Tattoos showing above the collar and below the wrists aren’t acceptable to the military, nor are obscene tattoos. Search online to find low-cost or free tattoo removal services for felons in your area.

Get legal advice to find out if you can get your felony expunged or have it reduced to a misdemeanor.

Final Thoughts

Can you join the military with a felony? Yes, in some cases. Certain felony offenses will make it impossible for you to join any branch of the United States Armed Forces, but for other offenses, it may be possible to go through the process to obtain a moral waiver for your offense.

You’ll need to convince your recruiter that you’ll be an asset to the service because your recruiter must be prepared to work with you and put forward your waiver application for consideration.

Do everything you can to prepare before you apply to join the military so that you present as a desirable potential recruit. If it’s possible to get your record expunged, do it.

If one branch turns you down, apply to the next branch, and then the next. If joining the military is your dream, don’t give up until you’ve exhausted every possibility.

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