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The Spodek Law Group understands how delicate high-profile cases can be, and has a strong track record of getting positive outcomes. Our lawyers service a clientele that is nationwide. With offices in both LA and NYC, and cases all across the country - Spodek Law Group is a top tier law firm.

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Can You Join the Military with a Federal Criminal Record? Recruitment Policies

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:35 am


Can You Join the Military with a Federal Criminal Record? Recruitment Policies

So you want to join the military but you have a criminal record. Don’t worry, your not alone! Many people with criminal records still want to serve our country and get their lives back on track. The good news is that yes, it is possible to join the military if you have a criminal record. However, there are some caveats. Let’s break it down.

The Waiver Process

Each branch of the military has the ability to grant waivers for people who want to enlist but have committed certain crimes. Basically, you apply and plead your case about why you should be allowed to join even though you have a record. There are no guarantees, but it’s definitely possible to get approved.

There are two main types of waivers:

  • Moral waivers – for serious offenses like felonies
  • Administrative waivers – for minor crimes like misdemeanors

The approval process considers the severity of your crime, how long ago it was, whether their were multiple offenses, your age at the time, and other mitigating factors. The military needs recruits but they don’t just take anyone.

What Crimes Make You Ineligible?

Some crimes will immediately disqualify you from military service. These include:

  • Felony conviction
  • Domestic violence offense
  • Serious drug charges (trafficking, distribution, etc)
  • Sexual assault or rape conviction
  • Kidnapping or human trafficking offense

For these type of serious felonies, you likely have no chance at a waiver. The military doesn’t mess around with those kind of crimes.

Crimes Eligible for Waivers

Many other crimes may make you ineligible initially, but can be waived so you can still join. These include:

  • Misdemeanors like petty theft, DUI, simple assault
  • Marijuana possession
  • Multiple offenses as a minor
  • Reduced charges through a plea bargain

The approval will depend on the specifics of your case. The military looks at how recent the crime was, your age, and whether you’ve stayed out of trouble since. Older offenses committed as a juvenile have a better chance.

Waiting Periods

Even if you’re eligible for a waiver, there are waiting periods before the military will approve your application. This allows you to prove you have been rehabilitated:

  • 2 years after multiple juvenile offenses
  • 1 year after marijuana possession
  • 2 years after a misdemeanor
  • 3 years after a felony

These waiting periods depend on having no other arrests or convictions. Any new trouble with the law resets the clock.

The Army and Marines Are More Lenient

The Army and Marine Corps tend to be more lenient with waivers than the Air Force, Navy or Coast Guard. For example, the Marines approved more than 550 felon waivers in 2018. They need bodies!

That said, approval is never guaranteed. But if you want to join after committing certain crimes, the Army or Marines are your best bet.

You Can Appeal a Denial

If your waiver gets denied, you can appeal or reapply after some time has passed. Gather evidence of rehabilitation such as school transcripts, job history, character references or volunteer work. This shows you have changed and deserve a second chance.

Persistence and evidence of good behavior can help reverse a denial. But if they say no twice, it’s probably best to move on.


As you can see, it is possible to join the military with a criminal record if you get a waiver approved. The process considers the severity of the crime, your age at the time, and your subsequent behavior. While approval is never guaranteed, waivers allow people to move past youthful mistakes and serve their country. If that’s you, be honest, gather supporting evidence, and don’t give up!

Let me know if you have any other questions! I know the recruiting process inside and out so I’m happy to help.



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