can you join the military with a felony
General Military Questions

Can You Join The Military With A Felony?

If you’re thinking about joining the US military, but previously had a run in with the law, you might have a few questions.

Everyday in the US, 1,000’s of young men and women are arrested and convicted of countless crimes and misdemeanors that can be detrimental to their future potential military careers.

So, can you join the military if you have a felony?  Well, the short answer is just like with anything else military related: it depends.  There are plenty of ex-felons in the military, and they all made it in one way or another.

Let’s examine each case specifically and see what the rules and regulations regarding military enlistment are.

Related Article: Which Branch Of The Military Should I Join? 7 Things To Consider

Can I join the military if I have a felony conviction?

It’s possible to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines with a felony conviction.

With that said, it is an uphill battle.

In general, the 5 branches of the military are looking for candidates with a “sound moral character”.

Often, a felony is looked at as a failure to meet that standard.

As discussed earlier, whether or not you can join the military with a felony conviction really depends on several factors.

They include:

  • What your felony conviction was for.
  • If you are currently on parole or probation.
  • If you’re currently in jail, prison, or facing criminal proceedings.
  • Whether or not your felony conviction was as a minor or legal adult.
  • Your “moral history” (ie, have you committed numerous crimes?)
  • The current needs of the military.

Let’s discuss some of these individually to get an idea of what is an enlistment killer and what isn’t.

What Your Felony Conviction Was For

There are certain crimes and circumstances that, no matter how you go about it, are just not acceptable to the US military.

For these crimes, there is no waiver process or exceptions.

You simply cannot join the military if you committed these offenses.

The crimes vary depending on the branch of service you’re looking to join, but here’s a short list of some felony offenses that will not receive a waiver:

  • Civil conviction of a serious offense with 3 or more other offenses.
  • Conviction for the sale, distribution, or trafficking of a controlled substance (including marijuana)
  • 3 or more DUI/DWI convictions within the last 5 years
  • Positive alcohol / drug test at the time of military application (ie, you show up drunk or high to MEPS)
  • Arson, embezzlement, extortion, grand theft, involuntary manslaughter,  rape, or other sex crimes

Again, this all depends on what branch of the military you’re looking to join.

For example, if you’re thinking about joining the Air Force, but have a felony DUI conviction, you likely won’t get in.

However, if you have a DUI on your record, the Marines will take you.

If you’re unsure as to whether or not your felony conviction is grounds for dismissal from consideration of joining the military, it’s best to speak with a lawyer or recruiter to get the full details.

Here’s a few resources to help you get started:

Find A Lawyer Near You – https://lawyers.findlaw.com/

Contact A Recruiter – https://www.todaysmilitary.com/contact-a-recruiter

What Your Current Legal Status Is

If you are currently on probation or parole for your felony misdemeanor, none of the 5 branches will grant you a waiver.

Additionally, if you’re currently serving a sentence in jail or prison, or are currently facing criminal proceedings, the military will not grant you a waiver.

You have to be completely off of parole / probation, and not legally incarcerated at the time of application.

If you are caught lying on your application, it is immediate ground for dismissal.

With that said, it is possibly for you to have your probation period reduced in order to join the military.

It all depends on the judge presiding over your case, and whether or not he will grant the parole reduction.

Minor Or Adult Felony Charge

Another important consideration is whether or not your felony charge was as an adult or juvenile.

Despite the notion that juvenile records are “expunged”, a military background check will be able to view any and all records as part of their security clearance.

These include both felonys and misdemeanors.

Regardless, felony cases involving juveniles are used in deciding whether or not a candidate can or cannot join on a case-by-case basis.

In some circumstances, it’s actually a way in to the military.

In lieu of of a jail or prison sentence, a judge may decide that you can join the military instead.

Again, it all depends on the circumstances.

How can I join the military with a felony?

Assuming you haven’t been convicted of one of the exceptions listed above, it is possible.

Joining the Army, Air Force, Marines, or Navy with a felony (like a DUI or drug charge) involves several steps, each of which depends on which branch you’re looking to join.

They include:

  1. Obtaining a waiver
  2. Getting letters of recommendation from character witnesses
  3. Going through a “suitability review process”

The Air Force, in particular, can be exceptionally picky about their recruits.

Thus, it can be more difficult to join if you have a felony conviction.

Several of the other branches, specifically the Marines and Army, can lower the standard during times of war.

They have (and continue to) accept candidates with less-than-stellar records, depending on the countries current war-time readiness levels.

Can I Join The Military With A Misdemeanor?

Unlike felony convictions, having a misdemeanor conviction provide a much easier path to enlistment.

Again, it all depends on the circumstances, as well as the branch of the military you’re looking to join.

Just like with felonies, however, the 5 branches of the military are all looking for candidates with “sound moral character”.

Some of the misdemeanor convictions that do require a waiver include:

  • Simple assault
  • Disturbing the peace
  • Drinking in public
  • Failure to appear, contempt of court
  • Harassment, menacing, or stalking
  • Littering

And minor convictions that do not require a waiver include:

  • Jaywalking
  • Speeding
  • Seatbelt / Child restraint violation
  • Driving without a license

Conclusion

If you’re concerned about your felony conviction ruining your chances of joining the military, know that there is hope.

There are too many factors involved that affect the outcome, but contacting a recruiter is your best bet.

In summary, if you have a felony DUI or drug charge, it is possible for you to join the military.

Can You Join The Military With A Felony?
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Rob V.
Rob V.
Rob V. is the founder of OperationMilitaryKids.org. While he never actually served in the US Military, he has a passion for writing about military related topics. Born and raised in Woodbridge, NJ, he graduated from the New Jersey Institute Of Technology with an MBA in eCommerce. His hobbies include beach volleyball, target shooting, and lifting. Rob is also a commercially rated pilot with over 1,500 hours of flight time.