Marines Navy

How to Join the Navy or Marines with a Felony

By: Kirk von Kreisler

Join the Navy or Marines with a Criminal Record

Deciding to enlist in the United States Military is one of the most significant, life-changing decisions a person can make. But being able to join the military is certainly not guaranteed and may be particularly difficult if you have a felony conviction on your criminal record.

The U.S. Military must first perform an intense background check and evaluation to determine the moral character of an applicant and filter out undesirable social habits. Having a felony conviction on your criminal record is one of the biggest barriers to successfully enlisting in any of the six branches, yet it’s not an automatic disqualification either.

Each of the six branches of the U.S. Military has their own requirements to enlist with different policies for those with criminal records and felony convictions. However, each branch typically offers applicants a chance to apply for a “Moral Conduct Waiver,” which may allow a person to serve despite having disqualifying convictions on their criminal record.

This article was written to give those with a felony conviction information on how their conviction may impact their enlistment in the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps, and how those hoping to enlist may minimize the negative effects of their felony. If you’re interested in joining the Navy or the Marines with a felony conviction on your record, please read the following information.

Disclose Your Entire Criminal Record

When applying for a position with the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps, you will be asked about your criminal record and any encounters you have had with law enforcement. So, how should you answer when you have a criminal record?

Regardless of what is on your record, you need to be sure to disclose everything to the best of your knowledge. The Navy and the Marines enlistment processes will include a background check that will likely be far more extensive than any background check you’ve had before.

Disclose everything on your record, even if any of your convictions have been expunged, sealed, vacated, or set-aside by the courts. Lying about the contents of your record is the quickest way to be rejected from the Navy or the Marines.

Lying during the Navy or the Marines enlistment process may even result in criminal charges. If you are accepted and it is later discovered that you lied to enlist, 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 may vary depending on your specific circumstances, but telling the truth will ensure that no charges will be filed against you.

In short, be as honest and forthright as possible with your recruiter.

Get Your Criminal Record

In order to be as truthful as possible with your Navy or Marines recruiter, it is important to obtain a copy of your criminal record. Getting a copy of your criminal record will allow you to ensure that you do not fail to disclose anything during the enlistment process.

The U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, like other branches of the military, use the Entrance National Agency Check (ENAC) program. The ENAC program is more revealing than any background check conducted by a private employer. As such, you will need to disclose all your criminal incidents and every contact with law enforcement, including incidents that did not result in a conviction or cases that were expunged, sealed, vacated, or set-aside. Your Navy or Marines recruiter will find the truth regardless of your disclosure.

The process of obtaining your criminal record depends on what’s on your record and the state(s) where you have been in contact with law enforcement. The procedures vary from state to state, but it is typically as easy as requesting your records from the courts where you have been tried or convicted. Alternatively, some states offer simple, cheap background checks you can complete yourself that should detail all your criminal incidents in the state.

Once you have your criminal record, it’s time to figure out if there are records that will keep you out of the Navy or the Marines entirely, records that don’t matter, or records that require you to obtain a “Moral Conduct Waiver” to enlist.

Expunged, Sealed, Vacated, or Set-Aside Records

One would likely assume that an expunged, sealed, vacated, or set-aside record would not need to be disclosed when attempting to enlist in the U.S. Military. After all, you are legally allowed to say that you have not been convicted of the expunged crime under state law. Unfortunately, these post-conviction remedies are limited in their effect federally, meaning they must be disclosed when enlisting for the Navy or the Marines. The same goes for juvenile records. The Code of Federal Regulations specifically states that these records are required to be revealed (32 C.F.R. § 571.3(c)(2)(i)).

Even though you are required to disclose records that have been expunged, sealed, vacated, or set-aside, those methods of post-conviction relief will still be helpful for enlisting in the Navy or the Marines. Expunging your criminal record or using one of those other similar methods proves that the court has found you to be rehabilitated. Obtaining any of these legal remedies should greatly improve your chances of being granted a waiver, allowing you to serve in the Navy or the Marines despite otherwise being ineligible.

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.

Which Criminal Records Keep You Out of the Navy or the Marines?

While both the Navy and the Marines offer applicants the chance to obtain a moral conduct waiver, there are certain convictions and conditions that are deemed ineligible for a waiver and will keep you from successfully enlisting. The disqualifying convictions and conditions may vary for each branch of the military, but individuals who fall under any of the following will generally not be eligible for a waiver:

  • Individuals with severe crimes on their record, such as murder, manslaughter, and terrorism
  • Individuals convicted of a sexual crime or of conspiracy to commit any sexual offense
  • Individuals required to register as a sex offender
  • Individuals convicted of a crime against a minor
  • Individuals convicted of a crime of domestic violence that falls under the Lautenberg Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968
  • Individuals with any charges or convictions that are related to selling, distributing, or smuggling illegal drugs
  • Individuals convicted of or arrested for any offense with gang involvement
  • Individuals convicted of an attempt, of conspiracy, or of solicitation to commit any of the above

Additionally, you will be disqualified from enlisting if any of the following situations apply to you:

  • You are currently still serving a sentence or have outstanding fines
  • You have pending charges
  • You have lost your right to possess a firearm
  • You failed the drug test during the enlistment process
  • You were formerly discharged from the military due to disciplinary or criminal issues

If you have been convicted of any of the above crimes or if you fall into any of the situations listed above, you will almost certainly be denied during the enlistment process. Regardless, it is always best to speak with a Navy or Marines recruiter to discuss the specifics in your situation and determine your eligibility.

Can You Get a Moral Conduct Waiver?

Moral conduct waivers for the Navy or the Marines are not automatic or guaranteed. If you have a criminal record, it is likely that you will need to apply for a moral conduct waiver to successfully enlist, which can take time and effort. It is important to understand whether you need a waiver, whether you can obtain a waiver, and the process of applying for a waiver.

Both the Navy and the Marines define types of criminal records differently from state law. The following terms are generally how the Navy and the Marines classify criminal offenses:

  • Major Misconduct Offenses are like felony convictions, or convictions that can impose a sentence of incarceration exceeding one year
  • Misconduct Offenses are like misdemeanor convictions, or convictions that can impose a sentence of incarceration between six months and one year
  • Non-Traffic Offenses are like violations, infractions, and violations of local ordinances
  • Traffic Offenses are traffic offenses that are not serious

Keep in mind that offenses that have been expunged, sealed, vacated, or set-aside will still count towards determining if you need a waiver and if you may apply for one. Additionally, any cases that resulted in an adverse adjudication — meaning any case that didn’t result in acquittal or wasn’t unconditionally dropped or unconditionally dismissed — will also count towards your total number of offenses.

The charts below will help you determine whether a waiver will be needed for you to enlist in the Navy or the Marines. If you have trouble determining how your offense would be classified by the Navy or the Marines, please refer to the tables provided in 32 C.F.R. § 66.7.

U.S. Navy Moral Conduct Waivers

Navy moral conduct waivers are required when you have enough charges that have been adversely adjudicated as to disqualify you from enlisting. Whether you need a waiver, whether you can obtain a waiver, and which authority reviews your waiver all depends on the number of offenses that are on your record. The following chart breaks down when you will need a waiver, or when you may not be permitted to obtain a waiver: 

Major Misconduct Offenses

1 offense: waiver is required

1 adult offense and 1 juvenile offense: waiver is required

2 juvenile offenses: waiver is required

2+ adult offenses: waiver is not allowed

3+ total offenses (both adult and juvenile): waiver is not allowed

Misconduct Offenses

1 offense: eligibility determination (but waiver not necessary)

2-4 offenses: waiver is required

5+ offenses: waiver is not allowed

Non-Traffic Offenses

1-4 offenses: waiver not necessary

5-7 offenses: waiver is required

8+ offenses: waiver is not allowed

Traffic Offenses

1-4 offenses: waiver not necessary

5+ offenses: 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: 



1 Misconduct & 4-6 Non-Traffic

4 Misconduct & 1+ 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

U.S. Marine Corps Moral Conduct Waivers

The Marine Corps has slightly different standards than the Navy on when an applicant will need a waiver and when they may be permitted to apply for one. Notably, unlike the Navy, the Marines will not consider waiving more than one felony.

Major Misconduct Offenses

1 offense: waiver is required (Commanding General Recruiting Station)

2+ offenses: waiver is not allowed

Misconduct Offenses

1-2 offenses: waiver is required (Commanding Officer Recruiting Station)

3-6 offenses: waiver is required (Commanding Officer District)

7+ offenses: waiver is not allowed (need “Exception to Policy Waiver)

Non-Traffic Offenses

1 offense: waiver not necessary

2-4 offenses: waiver is required (Commanding Officer Recruiting Station)

5-9 offenses: waiver is required (Commanding Officer District)

10+ offenses: waiver is not allowed (need “Exception to Policy Waiver)

Traffic Offenses

1-4 offenses: waiver not necessary

5+ offenses: waiver is required (Commanding Officer Recruiting Station)

It should also be noted that applicants with one (1) major misconduct offense and four (4) or more misconduct offenses are also ineligible for a standard moral conduct waiver and will need an “Exception to Policy” waiver.

Remember, though, discuss your specific situation with your recruiter so that you don’t miss an opportunity to enlist.

How to Get a Moral Conduct Waiver

Moral character waivers are also not easy to obtain. Requests for waivers should only be submitted if there are mitigating circumstances or if your qualifications outweigh your offense(s). It is the applicant’s burden to prove that your enlistment would be in the best interest of the Navy or the Marines.

The process begins with an interview by your Navy or Marines recruiter. When you disclose an ineligible offense or when records are found through the ENAC program, the waiver process will be initiated. Your recruiters will guide you through the steps of preparing a waiver package to be submitted for approval.

It is important to provide as much supporting documentation as you can obtain for your review. You should obtain all documentation relevant to your criminal record before starting the enlistment process, including court documents, police reports, and any proof of completion of sentences for your convictions. Letters of recommendation from responsible members of society that attest to your character will also help your chances in obtaining a waiver. Some examples for helpful letters of recommendation include those written by employers, law enforcement officers, probation officers or judges, teachers, religious leaders, and other community leaders.

You will need to ensure that your paperwork is as complete as possible. It may be beneficial to consider expunging, sealing, vacating, or setting aside your eligible criminal records to provide as much support as possible for your waiver application. Any of these methods of post-conviction relief may be used as evidence of your rehabilitation and as evidence of being a law-abiding citizen.

Both the Navy and the Marines, , will use the “whole person” concept in deliberating whether your moral conduct waiver should be granted or denied. Moral conduct waiver evaluations will be completed by comparing an applicant’s merits and liabilities through consideration of all relevant facts and information. The review process may take some time, as the waiver request must be forwarded through the chain of command.

Plenty of servicemen have been able to join the Navy or the Marines 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 successfully enlisting. Regardless of whether you use one of these post-conviction relief methods, 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 Navy or the Marines with a felony on your record.

4 thoughts on “How to Join the Navy or Marines with a Felony”

    1. We’re glad to hear that! Do you have a criminal record that is going to make that more difficult? We just ask because of the article you’re commenting on.

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