Can You Join the Army with a Felony?

September 16, 2022
Can You Join the Army with a Felony?

The quick answer to this question is yes, but the specifics are more complicated. There are many factors that are considered when determining whether someone can join the Army with a felony.

Each branch has different qualifications you’ll need to meet, with the Air Force being least likely to accept enlistees with a criminal record. In fact, the Army and Marines are more likely than the other branches of the military to accept even those with felonies.

Still, it’s a fragile subject without a clear answer. Overall, there are ways to join the Army with a felony but there are some things you should know first.

Here, we’ll explain what factors decide whether you’ll be accepted into the Army or not, as well as how to get a felony waiver to join the Army.

Can I Join the Army with a Felony?

The decision about whether or not you’ll be able to join the Army depends on various factors including:

  • What you were convicted for
  • Whether or not you’re currently on parole or probation
  • Whether or not you’re currently serving time in jail, prison, or if you’re in the middle of criminal proceedings
  • Your age when convicted of the felony
  • Your moral history
  • Current needs of the Army

Although there’s a lot of grey area when it comes to these factors, we’ll dive a little deeper into each of these categories.

Your Conviction

The type of crime you committed matters a lot when it comes to enlisting in the Army. There are certain crimes that just won’t earn a waiver, no matter what. Some of these crimes include, but are not limited to:

  • Three or more civil convictions of a serious offense
  • Sale, distribution, or trafficking of a controlled substance
  • Three or more DUI/DWIs within the last five years
  • Testing positive in a drug/alcohol test at the time of military application
  • Arson
  • Embezzlement
  • Extortion
  • Grand theft
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Rape or other sex crimes

To be sure that the felony you were convicted of is likely to receive a waiver, speak to your Army recruiter.

You might be wondering if only felonies require a waiver to join the Army. The answer is no. Even though a misdemeanor provides a much easier path toward enlistment, there are still certain misdemeanors that require a waiver, just like lesser felonies.

These misdemeanors include:

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

Some of these misdemeanors seem like they wouldn’t be a big deal when it comes to the Army, but the fact is, they are. Make sure that whether you’ve committed a misdemeanor or a felony that you’re honest about all the details when talking to your recruiter.

Legal Status

If you’ve been convicted of a felony, you must complete serving jail or prison time and you also must complete the sentence of your parole or probation. If you are still serving on parole or probation, you will not be granted a felony waiver to join the Army.

Make sure you are honest about your sentences and about whether or not you’ve completed those sentences at the time you apply for a felony waiver.

Age When Convicted

It matters whether your felony conviction was considered juvenile or adult. Contrary to popular belief, a juvenile conviction doesn’t automatically mean you’re in, but the Army will take your age into account.

In some instances, a juvenile felony sentence can actually be a gateway toward joining the military. Instead of getting jail time or a prison sentence, depending on the crime, certain people could be given the option to join the military. Again, each situation is case-by-case.

Moral History

Your moral history refers to how much you seem to have turned a new leaf and added to your moral character. If you’ve committed only one crime, have an otherwise positive moral history, and have proof that you are a valuable member of society since your felony, you’ll have a much better chance of obtaining a felony waiver to join the Army.

On the contrary, if you’ve committed numerous crimes and it’s unclear that you’ll ever change your life, you’ll have much less of a chance to join the Army.

Proof of moral history is necessary for getting the felony waiver for the Army. As further explained below, you’ll need references and recommendations from trusted members of society to help plead your case.

Current Needs of the Army

The last factor that makes a difference toward whether or not you’ll be permitted to join the Army with a felony is the current needs of the Army. Their needs will vary from time to time but, for the most part, enlistment in the military is on the decline, which will make your odds of entering with a felony that much better.

Especially during times of war, the Army will have an increased need for manpower and the standards at those times could be particularly lenient. In short, your best bet is to be willing to serve in the Army during wartime when there’s a better chance of enlisting even with a felony.

How to Get a Felony Waiver with the Army

To join the Army with a felony, it’s absolutely necessary that you obtain a waiver. Waivers are available to bypass certain requirements and are judged based upon what the Army determines to be reasonable. Waivers can be issued to forego weight requirements, medical problems, age, and criminal history.

There are a few steps you’ll need to take in order to obtain a waiver for your criminal record.

Step 1: Contact your Army recruiter.

Recruiters are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to all things Army. They’ll be able to tell you whether or not it’s even possible for you to get your waiver approved should one be lodged on your behalf.

Step 2: Be honest about your conviction.

The worst thing you can possibly do when attempting to get into the Army with a felony is to lie about your conviction. Eventually, the truth will come out and if you lied from the get-go, chances are they’re not going to trust that you’ve changed your ways.

Be clear and honest about what happened when you were convicted of your crime and give your Army recruiter all the details of the incident, leaving nothing out.

Step 3: Gather proof of moral character.

If there’s a chance your criminal history waiver will be approved, you’ll then need to prove that you’ve properly adjusted to civilian life. You’ll need to show the Army that you’ve changed your ways and that your felony was a one-off situation.

Proving your moral history might include letters of recommendation from those who can vouch for your moral character like a boss, teacher, or religious leaders.

Step 4: Apply for the waiver.

You Army recruiter will be able to lodge the waiver for you and all that is left to do is wait for the result. Remember, even though it’s certainly possible that your waiver will be accepted, it’s also possible that the Army won’t let you in.

Each felony waiver is considered on a case-by-case basis and it’s best to go into the process without any expectations. Overall, the Army seems to be the most lenient when it comes to allowing ex-felons to join their branch but it’s still good to keep in mind that the Army is not required to grant your request.

Those with felony records are granted access to the Army all the time and it’s not a lost cause if you’ve had a run-in with the law. If you play your cards right, remain honest about your past, and obtain the proper waiver, you can find a bright future in the Army even with a felony.

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