For many people looking to enlist in the military, it can be a surprise when they find out that a mistake they made in their past could potentially disqualify them from serving. One of the key elements of entering the armed forces is that applicants must be of good moral character.
This can mean a number of things, but one of the key factors that it involves is whether you have a previous criminal conviction. This can present a barrier to joining the military for many people.
A criminal record has many penalties beyond your conviction
When a person is convicted of a crime, whether that is a misdemeanor or a felony, it goes on their permanent criminal record. While many focus on the initial incarceration or criminal fines that come from a conviction, the additional penalties that apply afterward can be equally severe. Housing opportunities may disappear, public benefits may be unavailable, and career options will be limited.
In some limited cases, such as with juvenile cases, the military may not have access to these records, but that varies by the applicable state law.
For those interested in serving their country, a criminal record can preclude you from enlisting. Not every conviction is automatically going to block an enlistee’s application, however felonies are generally significant enough to warrant a disqualification, as are multiple severe misdemeanors. Although this may sound final, there is still an option that enlistees can turn to.
A solution for those with criminal backgrounds
Now, there is a pathway to getting past this barrier. The United States military can grant a moral waiver for previous criminal conviction so long as the individual is eligible. This waivers can apply to most applicants, however there are still some cases that would warrant a denial of a waiver.
The military will deny waivers for applicants for crimes involving narcotic drugs, a history of three or more DUI convictions, a total of five or more misdemeanor convictions, or who are currently facing criminal charges. In these cases, the military will not be able to grant a waiver.
There are a lot of details that can impact the granting of a moral waiver to enlist. For those seeking to obtain one, it is worth doing your research and speaking with a local recruiter to see whether your criminal record would impact your application or require a waiver. If the offense is not eligible to be waived, you may need to see if your previous criminal record is eligible to be expunged.