What Charges Disqualify You From Joining The Military: A Comprehensive Guide

Joining the military is a privilege, not an inherent right. The United States military upholds high standards when accepting new recruits. Whether you’re enlisting in the Marine Corps, Air Force, or Army, you must meet rigorous moral character standards. These are important to the long-term success of the mission, especially in times of difficult decision-making and moral dilemmas.

The US military has the right to deny your application under certain circumstances, particularly if you have significant criminal offenses. However, a criminal record doesn’t automatically prohibit you from enlisting in the military. It really depends on various factors, but what exactly? This guide will detail the charges that may deter you from joining the military.

Understanding Military Eligibility Requirements

You have to meet certain requirements to be able to join the military. The military has strong moral, legal, and ethical standards for its recruits. Why? Being in the military requires discipline, self-respect, and trustworthiness. Having a good record indicates that you can live up to the expectations of being a soldier.

These aren’t the only requirements for enlistment. You are eligible to enlist as a soldier if you meet the following requirements:

  • Between 17 and 35 years old
  • Medically, morally, and physically fit
  • A US citizen or permanent resident with a valid Green card
  • With at least a high school education or equivalent
  • A minimum test score at the Army’s placement exam

What Charges Disqualify You From The Military?

marching soldiers

People with a criminal background may find it challenging to join the military. However, it is not entirely impossible to enlist. Before submitting your application, learn the offenses that can impede your plans for enlisting.

Felony Offenses

Felonies are considered the most severe among recruitment offenses. Felony offenses refer to crimes of high seriousness. The US Armed Forces has its own definition of what constitutes a felony charge.

Felony charges include arson, aggravated assault, burglary, robbery, manslaughter, and narcotics possession. If you have a criminal record that reflects violent behavior, you cannot obtain a criminal waiver to enlist in the military.

Domestic Violence Charges

You are unable to enlist in military service if you have a history of domestic violence. This includes offenses perpetrated against partners and ex-partners, family members, relatives, and family friends.

Domestic violence is more than physical violence. It can also involve economic, psychological, or emotional cruelty. If you’ve been charged with domestic violence, you are ineligible to sign up for any military branch.

Drug-Related Charges

The US military is strict when it comes to drugs. In fact, military members undergo a drug test at least once a year. If you’re involved in selling, distributing, or trafficking prohibited drugs, you cannot enlist.

Drugs are strictly prohibited for military service members because they can negatively affect combat readiness and performance. Even if you live in a state where drugs like marijuana aren’t illegal, you’re still not allowed to join the military if you’re involved in the drug trade.

Sex Crimes And Sexual Misconduct Charges

According to the military, another red flag in one’s moral history is crimes of sexual nature. If you committed statutory rape, sexual assault, or criminal sexual penetration, you are unable to enlist in the military.

The military considers sex crimes a felony conviction because they undermine the trust and camaraderie essential for military service.

Minor Traffic Offenses

Did you know that your traffic record can bar your plans of joining the military? Applicants with at least six minor traffic offenses must obtain criminal record waivers. However, the crimes committed should have fines of at least $100.

Minor traffic offenses include disobeying traffic lights and signals, driving without a license or registration, overspeeding, and more. These misdemeanor convictions say a lot about your reliability as a person, trustworthiness, and honesty.

Minor Non-Traffic Offenses

Candidates who have accumulated a minimum of three civil convictions or adverse dispositions for minor non-traffic offenses must get a criminal record waiver. Minor non-traffic offenses include underage drinking, disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, and first-offense shoplifting.

If you’ve run into legal trouble because of the aforementioned offenses, it may indicate that you’re unreliable and have no respect for authority. Thus, you should be able to prove that these past offenses are behind you and do not define your moral character today.

Juvenile Offenses

Juvenile offenses may also impede your plans to enlist in military service. A juvenile offense is a crime committed by someone under eighteen years old. The applicant must disclose all the misdeeds they committed as a minor or juvenile. These include offenses that have been expunged, sealed, dismissed, or pardoned.

If you fail to disclose your juvenile crimes, you can get convicted with a federal offense. While there may be incidences where your juvenile criminal record may be pardoned or eligible for criminal record waivers, you should be honest about your history to be able to enlist.

Dishonorable Discharge From Previous Military Service

If you’ve previously enlisted in the military and have been dishonorably discharged, you won’t be allowed to enlist in the military again. Honesty is proof of good moral character in military service. So if you fail to disclose your history, it’ll be hard for the military to trust you in action.

Other Factors Influencing Eligibility

Military personnel walking on brown grass field

Just because you have misdemeanor offenses or juvenile records doesn’t mean you won’t be allowed to join the military. There are other factors that may influence your eligibility to enlist for military service. After all, approval of a waiver request is on a case-by-case basis.

If you have strong conduct and character references, you increase your chances of enlisting in the military. It is ideal to have a reference letter from the law enforcement officials involved in your past offenses.

Unless you’ve committed a felony offense, you have a chance to join the military. As long as you have a waiver that details how much you’ve adapted to civilian life and left your criminal past, you have a good chance of being approved.

Moreover, every branch has its own standards for what warrants a waiver process. For example, the Army is considered the most lenient among the six military branches when it comes to the waiver process. This is primarily because of their manpower needs. Meanwhile, the strictest when it comes to military enlistment is the Marine Corps.

How To Obtain A Waiver for A Criminal Record

obtaining a criminal record waiver

The rules and regulations for obtaining a criminal record waiver can be found at the Army Directive 2020-09. Applying for a waiver may seem simple like applying for a form. However, it must reflect that you’ve overcome factors that may have disqualified you from joining the service.

A waiver request must include the following components:

  • A self-signed memorandum
  • Supporting documentation. This may include police records, court documents, and other files that detail your offense and prove that you’ve grown as a person since.
  • If applicable, a General Office level endorsement

If you can’t obtain supporting documents like police records, you should submit a detailed affidavit talking about the events and punishment. This affidavit should also include how you’ve been unsuccessful in obtaining the supporting documents you need for the waiver.

Your letters of recommendation should be from people who are considered responsible community leaders. These may be law enforcement officials, clergy, or school officials. They should be able to prove your good moral character.

No matter how detailed your waiver request is, you should remember that waiver requests are approved on a case-to-case basis. If you apply for a military branch in need of more manpower, your likelihood of approval may increase. Moreover, if you obtained high scores in your exam, you might also be considered a strong candidate for military service.

Non-Waivable Charges

While some military branches might be more lenient than others, there are severe offenses that automatically disqualify you from joining the military. If you have any of the following offenses in your military criminal record, you won’t be allowed to enlist in any military branch:

  • Currently under civil restraint like probation, incarceration, or parole
  • Convicted of any domestic violence offense under the Lautenberg Amendment
  • Any crimes of sexual nature
  • Selling, distributing, or trafficking illegal drugs
  • More than one major misconduct offense like a felony conviction
  • Five or more misdemeanor convictions
  • More than three traffic-related offenses in the past five years
  • Dishonorable discharge from previous military service

Misdemeanors During Military Service

But what happens if you commit misdemeanor offenses while in military service? Will you then be kicked out of the military? It depends on state criminal codes. The type of charge will influence your eligibility to stay in service.

Regardless of how minor or severe the offense is, it should be noted that the service member should be honest if they have anything on their criminal record. Lying about your criminal background can lead to severe consequences and may kick you out of the military for good.


Having criminal records won’t automatically disqualify you from entering the military. However, it really depends on the nature of your crime and the Armed Forces branch you’re applying to. If you haven’t committed any of the aforementioned non-waivable offenses, you might still have a chance to join the military. This is why you should understand the factors that may affect your application.

If you want to know more about joining the military, you should explore the Military Verification website further. We have helpful information that can help you understand what it’s like to work in the military.


What would disqualify you from the military?

The military will never waive certain significant criminal records. Any of the following convictions may disqualify you from enlisting:

  • Certain violent offenses like statutory rape or aggravated assault
  • Having more than three major civil convictions
  • Being involved in drug sale, distribution, or trafficking
  • Grand theft, kidnapping, arson, or involuntary manslaughter
  • More than two DUIs in the past five years
  • Financial misconduct like credit card fraud or embezzlement

Can you join the military if you have a charge?

Having a criminal record doesn’t automatically prohibit you from joining the US military. However, it depends on the nature of your crime, when it was committed, and the branch of the military you’re applying to.

Can you get denied from the military?

Yes, you can be denied from joining the military if you’ve committed offenses they consider severe. Every waiver process is approved on a case-by-case basis so there is no guarantee that you will receive it.

What is permanently disqualified from the military?

Several factors can disqualify you from joining the service. These may include your medical history, military criminal record, age, physical fitness level, and drug use. Your educational background or history of mental illness may also disqualify you from joining.

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