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What Military Branch Accepts Felons?

Wanting to join the military to serve your country is a noble and selfless act, but it’s also a privilege, and as a felon, you know that certain privileges have been taken away from you. And you wondering; what military branch accepts felons? Continue reading to find out.

The military can often seem appealing to people that want to turn over a new leaf and get a fresh start. And if you’re struggling to forge a meaningful career because of your felony, you might wonder if any of the careers offered by the military are an option for you.

Is military service open to felons, and if so, what military branch accepts felons?

The military may accept felons in some circumstances, but joining the military is not an easy process if you’re a felon and, in many cases, it won’t be possible at all.

In this guide, we’ll explain the situation and then you’ll be able to decide if you should make contact with a recruiter.

What Military Branch Accepts Felons in 2024?

What Military Branch Accepts Felons

You can approach any branch of the military with a felony as long as your felony isn’t a disqualifying offense. Each branch of the military has their own requirements regarding criminal convictions that you’ll need to meet.

However, you should know that even if your felony is of a more minor nature, you will need to obtain a moral waiver, and getting a waiver is a difficult and lengthy task.

A waiver allows you to join the military when you are unable to meet one of the qualifying criteria.

During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, when the military was hungry for recruits, waivers were given for some serious felony offenses, but those days are over now and the military doesn’t have the same pressing need for servicemen and women that it used to.

Today, all branches of the military can be as selective as they want to be about who they allow enlisting. Of all the branches of the military, the Marine Corps is the least likely to accept you and the Army is probably your best option.

As a general rule, the older your felony is and the less serious the offense, the better your chances will be.

A Sound Moral Character and Discipline Matter

Serving in the military is a job, but it’s a job like no other. In the military, decisions and actions can save the day or end in disaster.

A tight team following orders and working together gets the job done and everyone gets to go home to their loved ones. But one bad apple could ruin a mission.

Unfortunately, when the military looks at a felon, they see a bad apple.

It doesn’t matter how seemingly insignificant your offense was, as far as they are concerned, you decided that the rules didn’t apply to you. You broke a law, and that’s a big problem. You’ve already shown by your past actions that at one time you didn’t have a sound moral character.

Clearly, everyone deserves a second chance, and we all know that past actions aren’t predictive of future performance, but the military won’t risk operations and lives on giving you the benefit of the doubt.

You might feel that getting busted for drugs, or drunk driving, or late child support, is nowhere near as serious as a conviction for rape, aggravated assault, or murder, but those offenses still demonstrate moral failings, lack of responsibility, and poor decision-making.

We’re not saying any of this to make you feel bad or to point a judgemental finger at you. But to help you understand why your felony is a big deal in the eyes of the military, you’ll need to show that you understand the underlying significance of your offense if you hope to obtain a waiver for your felony.

It may seem unfair, especially when there are undoubtedly people who joined the military with a raft of misdeeds under their belts. But the difference between you and them is you got caught, they didn’t. And that means you’re the one with a big hill to climb.

The moral character enlistment standards in the military exist to weed out individuals who will cause disciplinary issues, present a security risk, disrupt morale, or subvert good order.

The Military Has Full Access To All Of Your Criminal History

The Military Has Full Access To All Of Your Criminal History

You can’t hide your past from the military. Unlike civilian background checks, which can have time limits on reporting offenses, the background check for the military reveals everything.

Even sealed records from your juvenile years or convictions that you’ve had expunged will be available to the military.

If you were a juvenile when you committed your offense, you may be eligible for a waiver if you have had a clean record in the 5 years prior to your application.

The background check is extremely thorough – this is the government after all – so don’t be tempted to omit your conviction on your application. You could be liable to prosecution if you falsify your information.

Which Felonies Disqualify You From Joining the Military?

In all cases, to be eligible to join any branch of the military, you must have completed your probation or parole and not have any other criminal matters pending.

To be certain about your particular situation, you’ll need to contact a military recruitment officer, but in general, these offenses will mean that a career in the military is off-limits to you:

  • More than one felony conviction
  • A felony with more than 3 other offenses, excluding traffic offenses
  • Rape
  • Kidnap
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Breaking and entry
  • Murder
  • Aggravated assault
  • Trafficking, selling, or distributing drugs (including marijuana)

Misdemeanors Could Also Disqualify You From Enlisting

Misdemeanors Could Also Disqualify You From Enlisting

While misdemeanors aren’t as serious as felonies, having a misdemeanor on your record could cause you problems when you try to enlist, and having multiple misdemeanors will require a moral waiver and could disqualify you.

The military has its own criteria for determining misdemeanors and this may differ in some respects from civil classifications.

Here are some examples of misdemeanors:

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

Other Minor Offenses Which May Be A Problem

We weren’t kidding when we said that the military is a stickler for strong moral character. Traffic offenses and other minor offenses alongside your felony could make things difficult. These include:

  • Unpaid traffic violations
  • More than 6 traffic violations with fines over $100 per offense
  • 3 or more other minor convictions

What’s Involved In Obtaining A Waiver?

As we mentioned earlier, a waiver allows you to join the military even though you don’t meet the qualifying criteria. As a felon, your criminal background is a disqualifying factor, so you need to obtain a moral waiver.

You’ll only have a limited time to obtain a waiver once you begin the recruitment process, so it’s important to lay the groundwork before you formally apply to join the service.

You should certainly go in and speak to your local recruiting office to make sure that your offense is one that’s eligible for a waiver, and that the recruiter is willing to request the waiver (they don’t have to). But don’t fill out any forms just yet.

If you hit some delays in getting your supporting documentation together, you could run out of time, and then you won’t be able to proceed further.

A waiver has to be applied for and then approved. Approval is not automatic and is decided on a case-by-case basis after a review of all of the information.

You’ll need to prepare personal statements about the offense or offenses on your record, and the recruiting office should be able to provide some guidance on the best way to present your case.

In addition, your waiver application will have to be supported with court documents and character references from respected community members.

Potential community leaders you could approach for character references include church elders, law enforcement officials and probation officers, council members, and school or college officials.

Sourcing all of your supporting paperwork will take time and that’s why you should try to arrange your character references and gather the relevant information about your case before you apply.

Once you have everything in place that you’ll need for your waiver application, you can get to work with your recruiter.

How’s Your Credit Score?

One area that the military looks at during your background check is your credit score and financial situation.

If they determine that you have outstanding liabilities that you won’t be able to meet on a recruit’s pay, then that will count against you.

Clear off as much of your debt as you can before you apply.

Previous Article: How Long Can A Felony Charge Be Pending?

Improve Your Chances

Improve Your Chances of joining the military

While you may find that your felony is eligible for a waiver, you need to remember that you’re competing for a place against candidates without criminal backgrounds.

You’ll stand a better chance if you can exceed the other eligibility requirements. That means going above and beyond with respect to your physical fitness, and studying hard so that you can get a high score on the aptitude exam.

Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED as a minimum educational standard. If you don’t have yours, you should find out what resources are available to help you get your diploma.

You must be drug-free throughout the enlistment process. If you have any drug problems or use drugs recreationally, it’s in your best interest to get cleaned up before you apply.

Consider removing disqualifying tattoos. Any tattoos showing above the collar or below the wrist will require a waiver, which is another problem for you to overcome. Certain tattoos anywhere on the body cannot be waived, including racist, sexist, indecent, and extremist tattoos. Having tattoos of this nature will disqualify you.

It’s also worthwhile finding out if there is the possibility of getting your record expunged. This isn’t possible for all offenses and it takes time, but if you can get your felony conviction and any other offenses expunged, that will improve your chances. An expungement demonstrates that the civilian authorities already agree that you are fully rehabilitated and don’t present a risk.

Delaying your attempt to enlist while you apply for expungement would also allow more time to have passed since the offense took place, and give you more opportunity to develop relationships with people who can provide a character reference.

If your expungement is successful, you’ll still need to disclose all of the details about the offense when you apply to join the military. Failure to reveal a criminal offense to the military is itself an offense.

What Happens If the Waiver Application Fails?

If your waiver application is unsuccessful, that’s the end of the road. There isn’t an appeals process you can go through.

This is why it’s important to delay your application until you can get your record cleaned up as much as possible, and gather strong character references.

Final Thoughts on Branches of Military That Accept Felons

It may be possible to join a branch of the military if your felony isn’t too serious and you can obtain a moral waiver. You’ll need to be 100% honest when you make contact with a recruiter and give them all of the details about your offense.

The recruiter will tell you if your felony is an offense they can work with and if it is, you’ll need to go through a lengthy and rigorous admission process which involves obtaining a moral waiver and convincing senior officers that you would be an asset to the service.

All branches of the military have very high standards that you’ll have to meet and moral waivers are difficult, but not impossible, to obtain.

Ultimately, the only ones who can give you a definite yes or no about your felony are the recruiters for each branch of the military. Go to your local office and see what they say. It costs you nothing to find out.

Related Article: Can You Join The Military With A Felony?