A common concern among potential enlistees is “can I get in without a pristine (or rather, nonexistent) criminal record?” In short? It depends. The military spends a lot of time screening its potential recruits, in the interest of maintaining a certain standard of character. Does that mean people can’t get in without having made mistakes at some point? Of course not. It just means that your success in getting into the military largely depends on the severity and number of those charges, the corrective action taken, and possibly a waiver to get you through the door. On the other hand, it nearly goes without saying that some crimes will just disqualify you from getting into the military immediately.

Army Soldier Private First Class Skydiving

Army Private First Class Flemming Skydiving

With regard to background checks, and any level of security clearance, however, the stakes tend to raise a bit. The government goes to great lengths to insure that its interests are preserved and is accessed by individuals not only with clean criminal backgrounds, but also acceptably clear credit histories. The reasons are simple enough. Imagine being several tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, having access to highly sensitive information. Then one day, you’re approached by an individual who is offering you some chunk of cash in exchange for information you’re so used to seeing, it becomes commonplace and easy to compromise your better judgment. Far fetched? Not really.

Credit history aside, felonies and misdemeanors are quite a concern when it comes to landing a military job involving a security clearance. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules stating which set of circumstances allowing you to get this job or that, or even getting in, for that matter.

Talk to your recruiter. Everything discussed regarding your past experiences is in confidence. Unless you’re contemplating suicide or admitting to any form of child abuse (which they’re also obligated to report), information exchanged will be kept in strict confidence. Which is all very good news. Being able to discuss felonies and other criminal issues get cleared up much more effectively, and you increase your odds being up front about it. It’s much better that past charges are brought to light in a recruiting office than during a background check. In addition to a screening with your recruiter, you’ll also undergo an interview at theMilitary Entrance and Processing Station (MEPS).


Disqualifying Misdemeanors Situations-WITHOUT A WAIVER

1. Been convicted by a court for 6+ minor traffic offenses, in which each fine exceeded $100
2. 3+ civil convictions for non-traffic related incidents
3. Been given 2+ civil convictions for misdemeanors
4. Having a total of 3+ civil convictions for non traffic related incidents and/or misdemeanors.
5. 1 conviction for DUI (driving under the influence) More to follow on enlisting with a DUI.
6. An offense leading to a fine of $100+ (includes traffic violations)
7. Any offense leading to confinement
8. Any charge involving/contributing to the delinquency of a minor, spouse abuse, child abuse, or sex crime.

A waiver is required for anyone finding themselves in the following felony/DUI situations:

1. If you’ve been convicted of a felony. Period.

2. Regardless of the county or state where the incident took place, any DUI or drug charge on your record will require a waiver.

3. If you plead “Nolo Contendere” and it was accepted by the court, leading to dismissal, amnesty, clemency, etc are still considered to have a conviction even if due to:

  • Absence any more violations.
  • Rehab.
  • Completing parole or probation.

4. Any legal move that does not change the original conviction in its entirety.


One thing to keep in mind is Section 504 of 10 U.S.C. (reference (a)) states that, “no person…who has been convicted of a felony, may be enlisted in an Armed Force. However, the Secretary concerned may authorize exceptions in meritorious cases, for the enlistment of…persons convicted of felonies.”

In other words, even the military is up for statements of character. If you have skeletons in your closet, it isn’t necessarily a no-go. Find someone to attest for your character, be it a parole officer, priest, sponsor or otherwise, and your chances of getting into the military and a desirable job will increase considerably. Coupled with a waiver, misdemeanors and felonies could well just be one of many hurdles to overcome at the beginning of your enlistment.

Navy Carrier with Indonesian Navy

Navy Carrier with Indonesian Navy


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