Can You Join The Military With A Felony?

The US Military can provide excellent training and employment opportunities for those enlisted. All the military branches in the US take pride in enlisting candidates with a ‘sound moral character.’ However, it also raises the question of whether individuals with a particular criminal record are eligible to join the military. So, does a felony conviction affect one’s eligibility to enlist in the military?

Can You Join The Military With A Felony?

Yes, you can enlist for military service even with a criminal record. However, it depends on the severity of the crime you committed. Certain crimes are considered enlistment killers. But there are times wherein the military might relax their enlistment standards so people with felony convictions can join the military.

Understanding The Impact Of A Felony Conviction

According to 10 U.S.C. 504, any person who is a convicted felon is prohibited from enlisting in any military service. However, you may still enlist for military service if you secure a felony waiver. The waiver request is not automatic, and approval depends on a case-by-case basis.

Whether you’re signing up for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force, the US Military maintains that your moral character plays a vital role in your potential as military personnel. A felony conviction may be perceived as a sign you could become a problematic soldier.

If you have a felony in your criminal record, you’ll be interviewed by your recruiter. You’ll be asked about the circumstances around your particular crime. You may also have to undergo a computerized background check. In any case, it would be better if you were honest if you have criminal records to increase your chances of getting enlisted in the military. Several factors surrounding your case can impact your enlistment:

  • Your age when the charge happened
  • The crime nature
  • The crime severity
  • Which branch you’re applying to
  • Whether there’s a war currently going on

Some branches, such as the Air Force, may be stricter than others when it comes to military service qualifications. However, the Navy and Army boards are more lenient in their requirements, especially in times of war. Also, remember that acceptance in one branch doesn’t guarantee approval from another.

There’s a common misconception that convicted felons are prohibited from enlisting in the military. However, the chances of joining the Armed Forces depends on the nature and severity of the criminal offense. If you don’t have any severe charges under your file, you may still be eligible to explore a military career. If you prepare for your application well, you have a good chance of being enlisted in the military.

Eligibility Criteria For Military Service

US military personnels marching

Different branches of military service set their own moral standards for enlistment. While there are similarities, they usually recruit personnel depending on their needs and missions. Below are the general requirements to enlist in the US military:

  • Individuals must be US citizens. If you are not a US citizen, you must show a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) and the ability to speak, write, and read English fluently.
  • Applicants should be at least 17 years old (with parental consent) or 18 years old (without parental consent)
  • Potential recruits must be in good mental and physical condition, of appropriate weight, and have moral standards.
  • A high school diploma is preferred across all service branches. However, candidates with a general education development or GED certificate may also apply for service. It can be very challenging to enlist without a high school diploma or an alternative credential.
  • Individuals should take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Each US Military branch has its own minimum score you must pass before enlisting.
  • Applicants should pass the background check. In general, felons or individuals with several convictions may not be qualified to enlist. However, each branch follows its own enlistment policy, which includes the issuance of felony waivers.

The Army doesn’t accept individuals with a previous felony on their record. However, you can get a felony waiver depending on your specific criminal case. The Coast Guard is very strict with its background check, and you must have no felony charges to enlist. The Marines, on the other hand, authorizes felony waivers on a case-to-case basis.

The Navy doesn’t accept people who have been convicted of five or more misdemeanors. Meanwhile, the Air Force doesn’t enlist individuals with a criminal record or those who use illegal drugs. This branch also prohibits people with an excessive amount of traffic violations within a one-year span from joining.

If you have misdemeanor convictions or other minor offenses on your record, you can ask your recruiter if it’s possible for you to secure a waiver. Some branches, like the Army, would like to see if you’ve adjusted successfully to civilian life since your jail time or probation period. If you don’t have significant criminal records and you’ve displayed that you’ve changed, there might be a chance that you’ll be allowed to enlist for service.

Rehabilitation And Obtaining A Waiver

The rules and regulations for Army Moral Conduct Waivers can be found at the Army Directive 2020-09. A waiver request may be simple enough. However, it should be highlighted that the point of the waiver process is that you can prove you’ve overcome your circumstances surrounding possible disqualification.

Once you submit your waiver, there will be a comprehensive review to assess if you can enlist. A waiver request should include the following components:

  • A self-signed memorandum
  • Supporting documents, which may include underlying police reports, court dispositions, a letter of reprimand, etc.)
  • If applicable, a General Officer level endorsement and a Moral Waiver Case Summary. This applies only if the applicant has a ‘major misconduct’ offense on their record.

If you’re unable to provide supporting evidence, you can provide a detailed affidavit that discusses the events and punishment. This affidavit should also include details of unsuccessful attempts in getting the required documents, along with written proof from a law enforcement agency stating the records don’t exist anymore. Your waiver should be very comprehensive, and should include the nature of the offense, offense date and location, and punishment imposed.

There’s no guarantee that your felony waiver will be approved, even if you prepared your documentation well. There are various factors that may affect your waiver request:

  • Number and severity of offenses. Having multiple offenses can indicate poor moral history, affecting your enlistment.
  • Date when the felony occurred. Juvenile offenses aren’t perceived as severe as adult offenses. A judge may even recommend a juvenile offender to enlist in the military rather than serve jail time.
  • Ability to adjust to civilian life. The military may consider how well you integrated back into civilian society.
  • Security clearance requirements. Any conviction may disqualify you if you’re applying for a military position with a high-level security clearance.
  • The Department of Defense’s current staffing needs. When the military needs more recruits, they may be more considerate of criminal records.

Criminal Records That Cannot Be Waived

Meanwhile, certain crimes make it impossible for anyone to enlist in the military. These are enlistment killer offenses everyone should be aware of:

  • Certain violent offenses like aggravated assault and statutory rape or other sexual crimes
  • Breaking and entry
  • More than one incident of drunk driving
  • Certain financial misconduct, like credit card fraud
  • Kidnapping, including parental kidnapping of a child
  • Arson
  • Drug sale, distribution, or trafficking
  • Grand theft
  • Two or more DUIs or DWIs within the past five years

Regardless of their criminal nature, felons cannot enlist in the military if they are on parole or probation, in jail, or facing criminal proceedings. While there are no penalties for mentioning past legal trouble, lying on your application about previous run-ins with the law or fraudulent enlistment is immediate grounds for dismissal. Hence, it would be better if you were honest about your criminal record from the beginning.

How Can You Join The Military With A Criminal Record?

military personnels in camouflage uniform

The first step to joining the military with a criminal record is being as honest as possible regarding your criminal history. You should disclose any contact with law enforcement, even if you have expunged records.

Proper documentation is crucial in your enlistment process. You should collect substantial evidence to support your felony waiver application. Some candidates even request a letter of recommendation from a judge or prosecutor.

Before contacting a recruiter, you must prepare all the relevant requirements. You should remember that you might have limited time to submit a waiver request. Hence, proper preparation is key.

Penalty For Fraudulent Enlistment

Fraudulent enlistment is considered a serious offense. Service members found guilty will forfeit all pay and allowances. They will also receive a dishonorable discharge and a two-year prison sentence.

Enlisting In the Military With Felony Convictions

Can you join the military with a felony? Technically, you can, but it depends on numerous factors. If you’re serious about enlisting in the military, you should prepare all the necessary requirements to strengthen your case. Enlisting in the military is a privilege, not a right. Thus, you should be able to justify why you deserve to be of service to your country.

Fraudulent enlistment is considered a severe offense. Hence, you should be as honest as possible from the beginning if you have a criminal record. While a felony conviction is not an automatic deal breaker, you may face severe consequences in the future. If you’ve truly turned a new leaf and are passionate about serving the country, you should be able to prove you’re fit for military life. Explore our website further to learn more about military service.


Can you enlist in the US military with a felony?

Yes, but it depends on what kind of crime you committed, the nature of that crime, and when and where it was committed. How you adjusted to civilian life will also be considered.

What disqualifies you from joining the military?

You can be disqualified from enlisting in the military if you have a civil conviction in any serious case. These include violent offenses, financial misconduct, and the like.

What is the easiest military branch to get into with a criminal record?

If you have criminal charges on your record, the easiest branch for you to enlist in is the Navy or Army. If the demand is high, like during wartime, the likelihood of obtaining a granted waiver increases.

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