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Will a criminal record keep me from serving in the military?

By January 19, 2021May 16th, 2024No Comments

At Jacqui Ford Law, some clients come to us wondering whether they can enlist in the military with criminal charges on their record.

The answer, not surprisingly, is more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Each applicant’s case is considered by the branch of the military the applicant is hoping to join, and these cases are often highly subjective.

It’s important to note that it’s not possible to serve in the military as a sentence for a criminal charge (instead of jail time or a fine, for example). However, there are some situations in which people with criminal convictions can still serve in the military.

Let’s take a look at some specifics.

Criminal records and the military

Generally speaking, all branches of the U.S. military have certain “moral standards” they want their recruits to meet. This is why the Department of Defense examines each applicant and their case individually and announces their findings subjectively.

Applicants with a criminal record will have to go through a waiver process to see whether they will be allowed to serve. During this process, you’ll be asked questions regarding the circumstances of your case—the who, what, when, where, and why.

There are several factors taken into account that can determine whether the military will waive your conviction as a reason for disqualification. Some factors include:

  • Your age when the charge took place
  • The nature of the crime
  • The severity of the crime
  • Which branch of the military you are applying to
  • Whether there is a current war going on

Some branches may be stricter than others regarding qualifications, and just because one branch accepts you does not mean another would. Remember, no one is entitled to serve in the Armed Forces.

Which crimes are more likely to be waived?

Military services consider crimes in 3 categories:

    1. Non-traffic offenses: a crime where the maximum confinement is 4 months or less
    2. Misconduct offenses: a crime where the maximum confinement is more than 4 months but less than 1 year (examples include DUIs, drug possessions, simple assault, theft, etc.)
    3. Major misconduct offenses: a crime where the maximum confinement is 1 year of more (examples include firearm offenses, aggravated assault, drug possession with intent to deliver)

Some of the crimes that are less likely to be waived include:

  • Felony convictions as an adult
  • Juvenile felony convictions involving violence
  • Selling large quantities of illegal drugs
  • Sex offenses

Additionally, there are some crimes that can never be waived, regardless of the circumstances of your case. For example, anyone convicted of a crime that bars them from carrying a firearm would there be disqualified from serving in the military.

What if I wasn’t convicted, or my charge was expunged?

One of the most important things to remember is that you should never try to lie about or hide your record from the recruiter. The military has access to everything, and they can even see charges that you’ve had expunged from your record.

That’s why you should be open and upfront about your charges from the beginning of the process.

Another factor in your case is whether or not you were convicted, but the follow-up question is why were you not convicted?

For example, perhaps you assaulted someone, but they decided not to press charges. To a military recruiter, this case would be vastly different from the prosecutor dropping charges against you due to a lack of evidence.

If you’re worried about whether your crime will be waived, there are a few things you can go to improve your chances of being allowed to serve.

  1. Gather supporting evidence for your waiver process to prove your actions were merely mistakes in your rebellious youth or a crime of desperation, etc.
  2. Collect recommendation letters from respectable leaders in your community such as school officials, ministers, and even law enforcement officials.
  3. If you can, request letters of recommendation from the judge and/or prosecutor in your case to show that you have changed since you committed a crime.

Contact Jacqui Ford Law for more information

Jacqui Ford Law has in-depth knowledge and experience with expungements and criminal defense cases. We can help you determine whether you’re eligible for expungement or what else you need to do to try to qualify for military service. Contact us for a free consultation to start your process today.