Higbee & Associates Articles Can I Join the Military with a Criminal Record?

Can I Join the Military with a Criminal Record?

Mar. 20, 2014 11:54a

The United States military provides outstanding employment opportunities and training for those who choose to enlist. The six branches of the U.S. Armed Forces (the Army, Army National Guard, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard) all have different recruiting criteria and enlistment requirements. Each branch requires that their recruits meet rigorous moral character standards, and each branch must comply with federal regulations when it comes to accepting applicants with a criminal record.

The screening process is lengthy and extensive. There will be an initial interview by a recruiter, and then a subsequent screening, which will cover the applicant's background, will be conducted at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). For some individuals, a financial credit check and/or a computerized search for a criminal record will be conducted. Because of this background check, it is always best to be upfront regarding your criminal history.

Do I Need to Disclose My Case to The Recruiter?

Federal law requires applicants to disclose his or her ENTIRE criminal history, including sealed records, expunged records, and juvenile records. While under State law, an applicant with a pardon, expungement or dismissal may be able deny the existence of the conviction; under Federal law, these cases must still be disclosed during the recruitment screening process.

Failure to disclose information or providing false information is considered a federal offense. The applicant's convictions are then evaluated based on the severity of the offense. However, for many people with a record, it may be possible to enlist. This happens by applying for a waiver, which would allow him or her to still enlist despite a criminal history.

The Waiver Process

Once the entire criminal history has been disclosed or a complete criminal record check has been completed, the applicant can determine if a waiver is required to enlist, and if so, if they are eligible for a waiver. Applicants who require a waiver are not qualified for enlistment until the waiver is approved. Pursuant to Section 571.3, the military can choose to waive certain offenses. The burden is on the applicant to demonstrate that, regardless of his or her criminal past, he or she will benefit that branch of the military if granted a waiver.

Recruiters themselves do not have the authority to approve or deny a waiver, and the individual with the authority depends on the level of offense(s) involved. Unless otherwise stated in the waiver document, waivers are valid for six months.

The individuals who decide whether to grant or deny the waiver will consider the "whole person" when making a decision. Having a conviction that has been expunged , vacated, set aside or sealed increases the chances of receiving a waiver. While the applicant still needs to disclose the conviction, having it expunged or otherwise cleared by the court shows that the court considers the individual rehabilitated. To find out more about expungement, you can go to recordgone.com and take their free expungement eligibility test.

The Armed Forces will also consider if the applicant has demonstrated rehabilitation since being discharged from confinement or supervision. They will use that evidence of rehabilitation as a basis to judge your moral fitness. If all civil restraint is ended and there is substantial evidence of rehabilitation as a law-abiding member of the community, the applicant is more likely to be processed for enlistment.

If a waiver is disapproved, there is no appeal. The waiver process itself is the appeal; when an individual is not qualified to enlist, he or she submits a waiver request, which is an appeal to the military to make an exception in his or her particular case. Because there is no appeal if the waiver is denied, it is important clear your record as much as possible before you request a waiver.

Do I Need a Waiver?

Minor Traffic Offenses

Applicants with five or more minor traffic offenses, where the fine was $100 or more per offense are required to obtain a waiver.

Minor Non-Traffic Offenses

Applicants who have two or more convictions or other adverse dispositions for minor non-traffic offenses (misdemeanors) are required to obtain a waiver.

Juvenile Offenses

Section 571.3 (c)(2)(ii) defines a juvenile offense as one committed under the age of 18. The applicant must reveal all juvenile offenses, including those that have been expunged, dismissed, sealed or pardoned. Failure of an applicant to disclose his or her juvenile offenses is considered a federal offense.

Felony Offenses

Felonies will create the most problems in terms of recruitment. The U.S. Armed Forces have their own definitions of what constitutes a felony; however, examples of felony offenses include: aggravated assault, arson, burglary, manslaughter, robbery, and possession of narcotics. A waiver is required for even one serious criminal misconduct charge.

Can My Offense Be Waived?

Some examples of offenses that cannot be waived include:

(1) a conviction for which you are currently serving a sentence, including confinement, parole, or probation

(2) criminal charges that are currently pending

(3) a felony conviction for three or more offenses (other than traffic)

(4) two or more DUIs within the three years preceding application

(5) four misdemeanor convictions

For a complete list of offenses and other disqualifying conditions, which cannot be waived, please click here.

If you are looking to enlist in the military, it is important to be honest regarding your criminal history from the beginning of the process. Lying about what is on your record is not going to help your chances. Additionally, you should look into clearing your record at the courthouse, either through an expungement, record sealing or a set aside, prior to beginning the recruitment process. While you will still need to disclose those cases, it will be a sign to those reviewing your history that the court has deemed you rehabilitated.

Contact an attorney that specializes in expungement and record clearing to discuss your eligibility for these services and increase the likelihood of receiving a waiver and being able to enlist in the military. If you have any specific questions on joining the military with a criminal record, you should contact an attorney or speak directly with your recruiter.

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