By: Kirk von Kreisler
Join the Army with a Felony
Enlisting in any of the six branches of the United States Military can be an amazing, life-changing decision. However, it’s often not as easy as walking into an enlistment office, signing your papers, and heading to boot camp. One of the most common reasons to be denied enlistment is failing the required background check. Having a convictions on your record is the most common reason to fail this background check. It can be difficult to join the Army with a felony on your record, but it is not impossible.
Felony conviction on your criminal record will not always prevent you from enlisting in the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Space Force. However, a felony conviction can make enlistment in any of the six branches of the U.S. military far more difficult. If you want to join the army with a felony conviction, it is important to understand how that affects your enlistment chances, and what you can do to improve them.
Each of the branches of the U.S. Military has their own requirements to enlist with different policies for those with criminal records and felony convictions. For example, the U.S. Air Force is typically the most challenging branch to enlist in with a criminal record. In contrast, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are often more lenient on applicants with criminal records, particularly in times of war.
This article was written to give those who want to join the Army with a felony conviction information on how a felony conviction may affect their enlistment, and what can be done to minimize the negative effects of the felony.
Be Truthful About Your Criminal Record
When enlisting in the Army, you will be asked, “Have you ever been charged, cited, arrested, fined, or held in custody by a law enforcement agency or official?” — so, how should you answer when you have something on your record?
Whatever is on your record, make sure to not lie about it — the Army’s background check will reveal the truth. Lying about your record is one of the quickest ways to be denied or even charged with a new crime. Instead, be truthful with the Army about what is on your record, regardless of whether your convictions have been expunged, sealed, vacated, or set-aside by the courts. It is important that you are completely honest — the Army will most likely uncover everything in your criminal history. Army recruiters have heard everything, so do not feel the need to be embarrassed or tempted to leave things out.
Disclose every contact you’ve had with law enforcement, regardless of whether it shows up on previous background checks. The Army will perform a background check that is likely far more extensive than one you’d get in applying for another job, so do not rely on what prior background checks have revealed. Unlike private employers, the U.S. Army uses the Entrance National Agency Check (ENAC) program.
Lying while enlisting in the Army may even result in criminal charges. If you are accepted and it is later discovered that you lied during the enlistment process, you can be charged with Fraudulent Enlistment under Article 83 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Fraudulent Enlistment is punishable by dishonorable discharge and up to two years of confinement. The punishment for Fraudulent Enlistment varies depending on the circumstances, but it’s best to just tell the truth and avoid finding out!
It is important to be as honest and forthright as possible with your Army recruiter. Your recruiter has likely navigated this issue before, and they will typically be supportive in helping you successfully enlist.
Get a Copy of Your Criminal Record
Unless you know exactly what is in your criminal record, it is advisable to get a copy of your criminal record prior to beginning the enlistment process. The process of obtaining your criminal record depends on what’s on your record and the state(s) where your contacts with law enforcement occurred.
Remember, it’s not just convictions that you need to disclose to the Army when enlisting. You need to disclose all contacts with police, even if you were not convicted in the matter. Getting cases on your criminal record expunged, sealed, vacated, or set-aside will typically help your chances of successfully joining the Army, but you must still disclose them. Expunging your record or using a similar legal method to address your criminal record will usually help in obtaining a felony waiver to enlist in the U.S. Army.
If you have a complete copy of your criminal record will help you to not forget anything and allow you to start thinking about how to best deal with and disclose your criminal record to the Army. Once you know what is on your record, it’s time to figure out if there are records that will keep you out of the Army entirely, records that don’t matter, or records that require you to obtain a “felony waiver” from the Army to enlist.
Which Criminal Records Keep You Out of the Army?
Convictions for certain offenses are not eligible for a “felony waiver” and will bar you from enlisting in the Army. Each branch has their own list of offenses that will prevent you from enlistment. In some cases, you could be denied by one branch and accepted by another.
The U.S. Army disqualifies candidates from joining in the following situations:
- Those with severe crimes on their record, such as murder, manslaughter, terrorism, and sexual assault
- People with three or more convictions for driving under the influence (DUI, DWI, OWI, OVI, DUII, etc.) charges during a five-year period
- Being convicted in any court of a crime of domestic violence that falls under the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968
- Those with more than four misdemeanor convictions
- People with more than one felony conviction
- If you have one felony conviction and three or more misdemeanor or non-traffic convictions
- Being convicted of felony sex crimes or requiring registration as a sex offender
- People with any charges or convictions that are related to selling, distributing, or smuggling illegal drugs
- Individuals currently under judicial bonds, supervision, and restraints (including probation, bail bonds, house arrest, and parole)
- Those who have committed alcohol or drug abuse crimes while applying to join the military, which includes failing the required drug test
- If you have been formerly discharged from the military due to disciplinary or criminal issues
If you fit into any of the categories listed above, the Army cannot grant you a felony waiver and will prevent you from enlisting. While we recommend that you speak with an Army recruiter to confirm your status, it is unlikely that you will be allowed to join the U.S. Army based on current guidance.
Do Expunged, Sealed, Vacated, or Set-Aside Records Count?
Expunging, sealing, vacating, or setting-aside a criminal record often allows you to legally state that you have not been convicted of a particular crime under state law. However, these post-conviction remedies are limited in their effect federally and still must be disclosed to the U.S. Army when enlisting according to 32 C.F.R. § 571.3(c)(2)(i). The Army’s background check through the ENAC system will typically still show expunged, sealed, vacated, and set-aside records, as they relate to national security.
Although you must generally disclose expunged, sealed, vacated, and set-aside records to the Army, this should not stop you from seeking a post-conviction remedy for your record. Even with mandatory disclosure in this case, expunging, sealing, vacating, or setting-aside your record generally shows that the courts have found you to be rehabilitated. In fact, obtaining any of these legal remedies should greatly improve your chances that the U.S. Army will grant you a waiver and permit you to enlist.
If you want to know whether you are eligible to expunge, seal, vacate, or set-aside your record, our law firm has developed a secure eligibility tool to help you determine your options in the 22 states that our firm services. Our eligibility tool is fast and free to use. The tool can be found by following this link: WipeRecord Eligibility Tool.
Can You Get a Moral Conduct Waiver?
If you want to join the Army with a felony on your record, you are going to need a moral conduct waiver. The Army’s “Moral Conduct Waivers” (also known as “Felony Waivers”) are not automatic. You must apply for a moral conduct waiver and doing so can take time. It is important that you understand whether you need a waiver, whether you can obtain a waiver, and the process of applying for a waiver. If you do not fit into one of the categories in the previous section, you may be able to obtain a moral character waiver.
In determining whether a moral character waiver is an option for you, you need to understand the following terms. Please note that the U.S. Army uses definitions and classifications that may be slightly different than similar offenses under state law.
- Major Misconduct Offenses are like felony convictions
- Misconduct Offenses are like misdemeanor convictions
- Non-Traffic Offenses are like violations, infractions, and violations of local ordinances
- Traffic Offenses are traffic offenses that are not serious like driving under the influence
The following charts will help you determine whether you need to obtain a waiver to enlist in the Army. Additionally, please refer to 32 C.F.R. § 66.7 if you have trouble determining how your offense would be classified by the Army.
Major Misconduct Offenses
1 offense on record: waiver is required
2+ offenses on record: waiver is not allowed
1 offense on record: waiver not necessary
2-4 offenses on record: waiver is required
5+ offenses on record: waiver is not allowed
1-4 offenses on record: waiver not necessary
5-7 offenses on record: waiver is required
8+ offenses on record: waiver is not allowed
1-4 offenses on record: waiver not necessary
5+ offenses on record: waiver is required
If you have a combination of convictions falling under different categories, please refer to the chart below to see when a waiver is required or when a waiver is not authorized.
WAIVER NOT ALLOWED
1 Misconduct & 4-6 Non-Traffic
3 Misconduct & 4+ Non-Traffic
2 Misconduct & 1-4 Non-Traffic
8+ Misconduct/Non-Traffic combined
3 Misconduct & 1-3 Non-Traffic
1 Major Misconduct & 3+ Misconduct/Non-Traffic
How to Get a Moral Conduct Waiver to Join the Army with a Felony
The process to obtain a moral conduct waiver is described in more detail in Army Directive 2020-09 (Appointment and Enlistment Waivers) and this U.S. Army Memorandum relating to Conduct Waiver Requests. Make sure to complete the relevant forms and include the required supporting documentation detailed in this guidance.
Moral conduct waivers include a signed memorandum and require supporting documentation (police reports, reference letters, etc.). Some waivers also require General Officer level endorsements and Moral Waiver Case Summaries. Letters of recommendation from responsible members of society such as law enforcement officers, teachers, clergy, and other community leaders can provide significant help in obtaining a waiver.
Make sure that your paperwork is as complete as possible. If possible, you should seriously consider expunging, sealing, vacating, or setting-aside all criminal records, as any of these forms of post-conviction relief establish a court has found you to be rehabilitated. Do not rush through this process, and if you have any questions, your Army recruiter can be a great resource in helping you obtain a waiver.
Once your waiver request and supporting documentation have been received, the U.S. Army will conduct a “whole person” review to determine whether your moral conduct waiver should be granted or denied. Processing times on moral conduct waivers are currently two to six weeks and are provided by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command.
Plenty of servicemen have been able to join the Army with a felony on their record. We recommend that you expunge, seal, vacate, or set-aside your felony conviction, because it’s our belief that it increases your chances of joining the Army with a felony. Regardless of whether you expunge, seal, vacate, or set-aside your felony conviction, make sure to understand the rules for obtaining a moral character waiver and spend as much time as needed to file a complete waiver request.
WipeRecord Salutes Your Service
The United States Military does not have a draft. Instead, we rely upon the patriotism of fellow Americans to defend democracy and the freedom of our citizens. There are many reasons to join the United States Military, and our law firm salutes those looking to enlist, regardless of their reasons for doing so. If you hire our firm we will fight for you and do whatever we can to help you join the Army with a felony on your record.