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Can I Join the Army with a Felony?

One of the most common questions we get is "Can I Join the Army if I have a Felony". This FAQ answers that question and outlines what other offenses may keep you from joining the U.S. Army

All branches of the military are different when it comes to recruiting standards, but they all have regulations regarding felonies. The military maintains a high "moral" standard for recruits and is the basis for not allowing most felonies. If the felony occurred when you were a juvenile you have a better chance of getting in the military but if the felony occurred as an adult you may have a hard time getting in, if at all. In either case it all comes down to the type of offense and how long ago it was.

When you apply to the military you are required to tell the recruiting of any incidents that resulted in arrest or in charges being filed. It is a felony not to disclose this information. There’s no such thing as a "sealed" or "expunged" record, as far as the military is concerned. The military requires (under federal law) that such records be revealed on enlistment and security clearance paperwork. Failure to do so is a felony.

Congress and the courts have held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ensures all individuals are treated equally before the law with respect to civilian employment, does not apply to the military profession. No less than seven major Supreme Court decisions are distilled in the these words from Goldman v. Weinberger:

The military is, by necessity, a specialized society (separate) from civilian society….

    ‘The military must insist upon a respect for duty and a discipline without counterpart in civilian life,’ in order to prepare for and perform its vital role…. The essence of the military service ‘is the subordination of the desires and interests of the individual to the needs of the service.’ The history of the courts deferring to the judgment of military leaders on matters affecting the Armed Forces is one of the most consistently upheld principles of constitutional law. Furthermore, serving in the military is a privilege and sometimes an obligation, conferring neither the right to serve nor the right to avoid service… (see Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez 372 U.S. 144 (1963)).

Some of the crimes that can keep you out of the army are larceny, assault, rape, drug related and murder. Obviously the more violent the crime, the more serious the crime, the less likely the military is to overlook it. Some minor crimes may be overlooked if significant time has passed since you were convicted and have since had no other felonies. Still, this day and age it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to join up, the Army is very picky about recruits and wants the best candidates they can get. 

  Here is a list of what some of the typical felonies the Army looks at: 
 

     
  • Aggravated assault, assault with dangerous weapon, assault intentionally inflicting great bodily harm, or assault with intent to commit a felony. This also includes child, parental, or spouse abuse.  
  • Arson.  
  • Attempt to commit a felony.  
  • Breaking and entering.  
  • Bribery.  
  • Burglary, (burglary tools, possession of).  
  • Carnal knowledge of a minor  
  • Check, worthless, making or uttering, with intent to defraud or deceive ($250.00 or more).  
  • Conspiring to commit a felony.  
  • Criminal libel.  
  • Driving while drugged or intoxicated, or driving while ability impaired (2 or more offenses).  
  • Extortion.  
  • Forgery; knowingly uttering or passing forged instrument.  
  • Graft.  
  • Illegal/fraudulent use of a credit card, bank card, or automated (ATM) card (value of $250.00 or more).  
  • Indecent acts or liberties with a minor.  
  • Indecent assault.  
  • Kidnapping or abducting, to include parental kidnapping of a child(ren).  
  • Larceny; embezzlement; conversion (value of $250.00 or more).  
  • Mail matter; abstracting, destroying, obstructing, opening, secreting, stealing, or taking.  
  • Mails; depositing obscene or indecent matter.  
  • Manslaughter.  
  • Mis-prison of felony.  
  • Murder.  
  • Narcotics or habit-forming drugs; wrongful possession or use.  
  • Negligent/vehicular homicide.  
  • Pandering.  
  • Perjury or subornation of perjury.  
  • Public record; altering, concealing, destroying, mutilating, obligation, or moving.  
  • Rape, sexual abuse, sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, incest.  
  • Riot.  
  • Robbery.  
  • Sodomy.  
  • Stolen property, knowingly received (value $250.00 or more).  
  • Solicitation or Prostitution.

What if I was a Teen when I was convicted? Aren’t my records sealed? 
This is a common mistake. There are no "sealed" records from the U.S. Government and it is a felony not to disclose any criminal record when applied for the army. 

What if I get my record expunged? 
Having a felony expunged from your record is a civilian procedure. The government and military still show the felony on your records and so you will not be able to join by getting the felonies expunged from your record. 

Some criminal offences can be waived 
The Army divides criminal offenses into one of four categories: Applicants with six or more minor traffic offenses (where the fine was $100 or more per offense), or three or more minor non-traffic offenses, or two or more misdemeanors, or one or more felonies, requires a waiver. 

The following are some offenses which can be waived: 

     
  • Minor Traffic Offenses. Anyone who has six or more minor traffic offenses, where the fine was $100 or more per offense requires a waiver. Regardless of what state/local law says, the Army has its own list of what it considers minor traffic offenses.  
  • Minor Non-Traffic Offenses. Anyone who has three or more civil convictions or other adverse dispositions for minor non-traffic offenses requires a waiver. Again, the Army has it’s own list of what it considers minor non-traffic offenses.  
  • Misdemeanor Offenses. Those with two, three, or four, civil convictions or other adverse dispositions for what the Army considers to be a misdemeanor offense require a waiver. Waivers are not authorized for individuals with more than four civil convictions or other adverse dispositions for misdemeanor offenses.  
  • Combinations. Those who have received three or more civil convictions or other adverse dispositions for a combination of misdemeanor or minor non-traffic offenses require a waiver.  
  • DWI/DUI. Two or more convictions or other adverse dispositions for DWI/DUI requires a waiver. There is a special waiting time of 12 months from date of conviction before one may receive a waiver for DWI/DUI.  
  • Felony. Any conviction or adverse disposition for what the Army considers a felony, requires a waiver. Again, the Army has its own list of what it considers to be a felony.

Offenses/Moral Behavior Which Cannot be Waived:

     
  • Intoxicated or under influence of alcohol or drugs at time of application, or at any stage of processing for enlistment.  
  • Criminal or juvenile court charges filed or pending against them by civil authorities. Special Instructions: Pending charges include unpaid traffic violations. Authorized reception battalion commanders and Initial Entry Training (IET) commanders may consider that, in certain meritorious cases, unpaid minor traffic tickets that are subsequently paid after entry did not constitute fraudulent entry. In those limited circumstances, separation processing for fraudulent enlistment is not required. All other cases meeting the provisions of fraudulent entry criteria must be processed in accordance with AR 635-200.  
  • Persons under civil restraint, such as confinement, parole, or probation.  
  • Subject of initial civil court conviction or adverse disposition for more than one felony offense. (Note: Applicants with juvenile felony offenses who have had no offenses within 5 years of application for enlistment may be considered for a waiver in meritorious cases)  
  • Civil conviction of a felony with three or more other offenses (other than traffic)  
  • Subject of initial civil court conviction or other adverse dispositions for sale, distribution, or trafficking (including "Intent To:) of cannabis (marijuana), or any other controlled substance.  
  • Prior service military with an RE code of "4"  
  • Persons with a Bad Conduct or Dishonorable discharge.  
  • Applicants having history of chronic cannabis (marijuana) use or psychological cannabis dependence (as defined in AR 40-501).  
  • Persons with prior service last discharged from any component of the Armed Forces for drug or alcohol abuse, or as rehab failure during their last period of service.  
  • Three or more convictions or other adverse dispositions for driving while intoxicated, drugged, or impaired in the 5 years preceding application for enlistment.  
  • Confirmed positive result for alcohol or drugs (test administered at MEPS)  
  • Persons with convictions or other adverse dispositions for 5 or more misdemeanors preceding application for enlistment.

Remember, joining the military is not a right. It is a privilege. Every single branch of the military reserves the right to reject a potential recruit for any reason. 

 
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