Life After Release

Can You Join the Military With a Felony?

Convicted criminals can, at times, join the military with a felony. After all, wanting to serve the country highlights how much a criminal offender has learned from their past and became a better person. Enlisting with the army also comes with its own benefits. For example, convicts can learn how to become disciplined and follow a strict lifestyle. In addition, army recruits enjoy a stable income and lucrative benefits. It is not a surprise, therefore, that many former criminals want to join the military with a felony.

While the army does recruit felons, there are certain obstacles that enlistment applicants may face. The military, for instance, might be concerned about safety problems that some criminal offenders may create. Moreover, the army isn’t a training camp. Simply put, recruiters don’t look for people who can learn to be disciplined. Instead, they want applicants that are already disciplined. Above all else, the military defines felonies and criminal offenses in its own way, regardless of state or local laws.

Convicted violators, however, shouldn’t feel discouraged by this. If you want to join the military with a felony, there are many waivers and exceptions that you can apply for. Some crimes may automatically disqualify an offender from enlisting, but this certainly isn’t always the case. To illustrate how the process works, this article will highlight all the facts and specifics that you should take into consideration, starting with the initial job interview. We also showcase how you can submit a successful waiver application. In short, you can join the military with a felony. While the process is demanding, it is definitely doable.

Moral Standard for Enlisting

In order to join the military, candidates must meet a certain criteria. The law classifies felonies (as well as misdemeanors) as offenses of “moral turpitude.” However, the army will still consider applications on an individual basis. In other words, there aren’t any general rules that prevent felons from enlisting (apart from a few exceptions that we will outline in this article). First of all, during the interview, recruiters ask applicants about their criminal history. After that, they conduct a background check. If the applicant is a convicted felon, the army will consider several factors.

In short, the military wants to avoid hiring people that have disciplinary problems, pose a security threat, or otherwise disrupt the activities and morale of the armed forces. This is not to say that felons are automatically excluded. Instead, the recruitment process determines whether a convict learned from their past, became a better person, and therefore meets the military’s moral standards. To further illustrate, here is an example. A felon that is guilty of a violent crime or weapons violation must show that they don’t pose a security threat, especially when they apply for a job that requires them to handle firearms and guns. To do so, the felon would highlight that they finished their sentence, attained a new job, and regularly engaged with society without causing any threats or harm.


Although this is not the case, most convicts need to apply for a waiver in order to join the military with a felony. Having said that, there are specific exceptions that make a person automatically ineligible for enlistment, regardless of whether they apply for a waiver or not. The following situations and offenses would disqualify felons from joining the army:

  • Severe crimes, such as terrorism, murder, and sexual assault
  • Repeat criminal offenses
  • Three or more DUI/OVI charges during a five year period
  • Three or more civil felonies that are related to non-traffic violations (embezzlement and white collar crimes, for instance)
  • More than four misdemeanor convictions
  • Any charges or convictions that are related to selling, distributing, or smuggling illegal drugs
  • Judicial bonds and restraints (including house arrest, probation, bail bonds, and parole)
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Those who commit alcohol or drug abuse crimes while they are applying to join the military (including applicants that fail to pass a drug test)
  • Former military members that were discharged because of disciplinary or criminal issues (yet those that left the army voluntarily or because they finished their services may still re-join, even if they have a felony)

To clarify, if any of the above situations apply to you, you can’t join the military with a felony. Moreover, applying for a waiver is not an option, either.


The army requires certain applicants to apply for a waiver in order to enlist. This applies to felonies and other types of violations. The military splits its waivers into six different categories, based on the crime or violation type.

  • Traffic Offenses (Minor): A speeding ticket or driving infraction doesn’t disqualify you from joining the military and an applicant doesn’t need a waiver. However, those that committed six or more minor traffic violations (with a minimum of a one-hundred dollar fine per offense) must apply for a waiver in order to join the army.
  • Traffic Offenses (Serious): This category mainly applies to DUI/DWI convictions. Military applicants that have two or more DUIs need a waiver. Before applying for one, offenders must wait for at least one year to pass from the date of their latest DUI conviction. For example, a person that got their second DUI in October of 2019 can’t apply for a waiver before October 2020.
  • General Civil Offenses (Minor): Applicants that committed three or more minor violations or infractions need a waiver in order to join the military.
  • General Civil Offenses (Serious): Aspiring army members that have between two and four misdemeanor offenses must obtain a waiver before they enlist. Keep in mind that a fifth misdemeanor automatically disqualifies an applicant from joining.
  • Illegal Drug Violations: Convicts that committed crimes related to the possession of controlled substances need a waiver. It is important to remember that the army will not issue waivers to applicants convicted of selling or trafficking illegal drugs.
  • Felonies: A person guilty of only one felony will be considered for a waiver. Repeat offenders, however, can’t enlist or request a waiver.

Perhaps most noteworthy, the army defines crimes and infractions in its own way. Their criteria might be entirely separate from state and local laws. For example, a state may classify a certain crime as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. Yet if federal law treats the same offense as a felony, the army will still require the applicant to request a waiver.

Obtaining a Waiver

First of all, the military will not issue waivers to convicts until they fully conclude their sentences. After that, the convict must demonstrate that they re-assimilated to civil life. There isn’t a standard or general method to do so. It depends on the type of crime than an applicant committed and other specifics that apply to their individual situation. A thief or burglar, for instance, can highlight that they worked as a cashier for several years after they got out of prison. During this time, they were consistently productive and haven’t committed any other offenses. In turn, this highlights to the army that the convict meets their moral standards criteria and doesn’t pose a safety threat.

A DUI offender, meanwhile, must show recruiters that they will not cause any disciplinary problems if they enlist. To do so, the applicant can showcase that they completed rehabilitation programs, avoided alcohol consumption, and haven’t committed any DUI or public intoxication infractions. When recruiters consider waiver requests, they examine each application on an individual basis. Nonetheless, when a felon submits a waiver, a few documents can help their case. They include (but aren’t limited to) recommendation letters from employers, religious figures (such as a church’s minister or a mosque’s imam), community leaders, and, certainly, law enforcement officials. Keep in mind that these testimonies must come from reliable and trustworthy members of the community. The army might not accept a recommendation letter from a friend or family member, for instance.

Rejected Waivers

The first step of requesting a waiver starts during the initial interview. When the applicant meets with the army recruiters, the latter will ask them about their criminal record and past convictions. The aspiring enlistee would discuss the situation and why they believe that their criminal past is behind them (such as by getting a job, completing probationary requirements, and so forth). Subsequently, the recruiter informs the applicant whether they are eligible for a waiver or not. Above all else, felons should keep in mind that recruiters don’t make any final determinations when it comes to criminal records.

When an applicant requests a waiver, either the Recruiting Battalion Commander or the Commanding General of the Army Recruiting Command will review it. After that, one of the two offices decide on whether to approve or reject the waiver request. When the army rejects a waiver, applicants can’t appeal the decision or submit another request. Simply put, rejected waivers automatically mean that you aren’t eligible for enlistment. Because of this, in order to potentially join the military with a felony, convicts must include all of their supporting documents when they initially request the waiver. Any mistakes or omitted information cannot be corrected after the army decides to disapprove the waiver.

Other Procedures and Considerations

When the military considers an applicant’s background, their review isn’t limited to convictions. Instead, they also examine other charges and accusations, even if the court didn’t rule that the defendant is guilty. Moreover, the army’s recruiters will ask about attempted offenses, plea bargains, and punishments other than incarceration.

Attempted Offenses

Let’s assume that a burglar planned to rob a bank. They parked their car by the bank’s parking lot, put on face coverings, and loaded their gun. However, while they were still in the vehicle, law enforcement spotted the wrongdoer and arrested them before they could rob the bank. In this instance, law enforcement never charged the criminal with an actual robbery, but only an attempted one. If the bank robber applies to join the military, the army will treat the attempted crime in the same manner they would an actually committed crime. To put it another way, the felon must still disclose that during the interview and they may potentially have to apply for a waiver in order to be considered.

Equally as important are dropped charges. In the above example, let’s look at what happens if law enforcement decided to charge the robber with obtaining a weapon without a permit and refusing to cooperate with the police. This, of course, is an addition to the original attempted robbery accusations. The defendant may negotiate an agreement with the prosecutors. As an example, the robber could agree to reveal the names of co-conspirators. In exchange, law enforcement would drop the weapon-related and refusal to cooperate charges. When the robber applies to a non-military job, they are only required to disclose the actual charges (i.e. attempted robbery). As far as enlisting with the army goes, the applicant must reveal both the actual and dropped charges, alike. They might also need to apply for a waiver.

Penalties and Incarceration

The military’s recruiters will similarly pay attention to penalties, even if no prison or jail time is involved. A court may sentence a drug offender, for instance, to one-year of probation and community service. Even though the defendant was never incarcerated, the army still examines other forms of punishments when they consider enlistment applications. This includes first-time offender programs, monetary fines, parole, and others. In short, even if you never went to jail or prison, your criminal record will be carefully scrutinized when you want to join the military with a felony.

Lax Recruitment Policies

In recent years, the military eased some of their enlistment requirements due to a lack of volunteers. For example, they increased the maximum age for first-time enrollees from thirty-five to forty-two years. To clarify, under the previous rules, a person couldn’t join the military for the first time if they were older than thirty-five. Today, however, new applicants that haven’t previously enlisted have until their forty-second birthday to do so.

Many people mistakenly believe that the military is becoming more lax towards felons. After all, they do need more volunteers. Yet this isn’t necessarily the case. Anyone who wants to join the military with a felony must go through the rigorous recruitment process. Most notably, this includes applying for a waiver and meeting the army’s moral standard criteria. Just because the minimum age increased and recruitment is down doesn’t mean that the army’s overall requirements became lax.

Expungements and Pardons

On the state level, felons may request an expungement or a pardon from the government. Similarly, offenders that committed crimes as juveniles commonly have their records expunged as they become responsible adults. An expungement fully removes the criminal offense from your records. This means that an expunged felony doesn’t appear on your background check when a potential employer, lender, or housing provider views it. In light of this, many felons don’t reveal their expunged criminal past during non-military job interviews. Pardons are similar to expungements, but state governors are the only ones that have the power to grant them. The restoration of civil rights and sealed records equivalently conceal felonies from background checks.

If you want to join the military with a felony, on the other hand, the rules are entirely different. An applicant must disclose their criminal past to recruiters, even if they committed the offense as a minor/juvenile. Moreover, many expungements, pardons, and sealed records only apply on the local level. The more expansive ones (that private employers use) might also hide this information. The army, meanwhile, relies on the Entrance National Agency Check (ENAC) program. ENAC’s background checks go through a person’s records across different government levels. It reveals expunged, sealed, and pardoned criminal offenses. Applicants, therefore, should disclose that information. Otherwise, the military’s recruiters will directly contact the law enforcement agency that initially charged the offender to inquire about the crime.

How to Join the Military With a Felony

Nothing is more patriotic and selfless than wanting to serve your country after you serve your sentence. The army certainly recognizes this. As a result, they screen applicants from day one to determine which convicts truly learned their mistakes. If you are honest about your past and can demonstrate your improvement, the military may grant you a waiver. Keep in mind, however, that several offenses and situations may automatically disqualify an applicant. Moreover, the army plays by its own rules. In other words, they will still ask about expunged records and pardons, even though other employers don’t do so. Similarly, the armed forces follow a set of guidelines that are separate from state and local laws.

To summarize and answer our initial question: yes, you certainly can join the military with a felony. The task is definitely demanding. However, if you successfully finished your prison sentence and think that you have what it takes to become an army member, then the application process shouldn’t be that daunting. After all, that’s what the recruiters are looking for.

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button