What Charges Disqualify You From The Military? Find Out

soldiers in truck

The military has high standards when it comes to recruits. You need to meet the aptitude, physical, and behavioral standards of the Department of Defense and its service branches. But what if you have a criminal record? Can you still enlist in the military? The short answer is that you can still sign up for military service, depending on the offense.

This article will delve deeper into the charges that can disqualify you from your plans to join the military. It’ll give you a better understanding of the moral character that the Armed Forces are looking for regarding recruits.

Can You Join The Military If You Have A Charge?

While the US military has rigorous moral character standards regarding recruits, having a criminal record doesn’t automatically disqualify you from enlisting. However, your eligibility depends on the gravity of the offenses committed and when the incident/s occurred.

Military Eligibility Requirements

Before you sign up at the nearest recruitment center, you should ensure that you meet the Armed Forces’ basic requirements. Every military branch has its standards for recruits. However, all branches have these qualifications in common:

  • US citizenship or proof of being a resident alien
  • Age of at least 17 years old (recruits aged 17 need parental consent to enlist)
  • At least a high school diploma (or equivalent)
  • Physically fit enough to pass the physical medical exam

The US military is selective regarding recruits because military personnel are expected to be able to distinguish what’s morally right from wrong. Ideally, you should have a clean record that proves you have the moral capacity to meet military service standards.

There are several reasons why the military might not accept your application. These include your age, weight, medical condition, criminal history, and even select tattoos. Serving in the military is a privilege, not a right. Hence, you’re not entitled to military service just because you’re an American citizen.

Aside from passing the military’s moral, legal, and ethical standards, you should perform well in the military aptitude test. This test proves that you have the capacity to work in the demanding conditions of active duty service.

Age is another massive factor when enlisting in military service. Different Armed Forces branches have specific age requirements. The Marine Corps doesn’t accept applicants who are over 28 years old. Meanwhile, Air Force, Space Force, and Navy accept applicants who are 39 years maximum. The most senior applicant the Coast Guard will take is 35.

How Far Back Does A Military Base Background Check Go?

men in green and brown camouflage uniform

Military background checks go as far back as a decade. If you’ve committed felony offenses or other criminal offenses within the time frame, you should disclose your history with your recruiter.

What Charges Disqualify You From The Military?

As mentioned, people with a criminal record might find it challenging to join the military. However, it is not impossible for these individuals to start a military career. As long as you haven’t committed grave offenses that disqualify you from active duty service, you should try your luck and enlist in the military.

Minor Traffic Offenses

If you’ve got six or more minor traffic offenses, you must obtain a waiver to sign up for the military. This is provided that you have accumulated a fine of at least $100.

What counts as minor traffic offenses? These include speeding, driving without a registration or license, and disobeying traffic lights and signals.

Minor Non-Traffic Offenses

Individuals with at least three civil convictions or other adverse dispositions for minor non-traffic offenses should get a waiver upon applying for the military. These minor offenses may include disorderly conduct, underage drinking, criminal mischief, and first-offense shoplifting.

Having these charges on your criminal record might indicate that you are unreliable and have little respect for authority. Hence, you should prove that these offenses don’t define who you are today and that you’ve turned over a new leaf.

Juvenile Offenses

Juvenile offenses may also hinder your plans to join the military. You should disclose all the misdeeds you committed as a minor. These include juvenile convictions that may have already been expunged, sealed, dismissed, or pardoned.

If you don’t disclose your juvenile records, you may get convicted of a federal offense. You should be honest about your criminal record if you want the military to trust you and place you in active duty service. Honesty is vital in the military, after all.

Felony Offenses

Felony offenses are widely considered the most severe among criminal offenses. The US military has its own definition of what counts as a felony offense. Some states may downgrade certain felony convictions to misdemeanor offenses.

If you’ve got a felony conviction on your record, you will find it nearly impossible to join the military. Felony convictions include aggravated assault, arson, burglary, narcotics possession, and manslaughter.

Domestic Violence Offenses

If you have a criminal past of domestic violence, you’re not allowed to enlist for active duty service. What counts as domestic violence by US military standards? These may include offenses committed against partners, ex-partners, family members, relatives, and family friends.

Note that domestic violence isn’t just physical violence. This may also involve economic, emotional, or psychological abuse. It is impossible for you to enlist in any military branch if you have this on your criminal record.

The US military has high standards when it comes to drugs. All recruits and enlisted personnel must undergo drug tests to ensure they are clear of illegal drugs. Hence, having drug-related charges disqualifies you from enlisting in military branches.

If you’ve ever been convicted of selling, distributing, or trafficking illegal drugs, you can say goodbye to your dreams of joining the military. Even if you reside in a state wherein select drugs are legal, you’re not allowed to enlist in the military if you have a criminal record involving drugs.

Sex Crimes And Sexual Misconduct Charges

Another offense that the US military deems highly important is crimes of sexual nature. If you have a history of statutory rape, sexual assault, or criminal sexual penetration, these criminal records can disqualify you from joining the military.

Dishonorable Discharge From Previous Military Service

Technically, dishonorable discharge doesn’t count as a criminal record. However, you will be prohibited from joining the military if you have a dishonorable discharge on your records. Dishonorable discharge means you have a severe military criminal record that might affect your capacity in service.

Military Criminal Record Waivers

If you have misdemeanor convictions or other minor offenses that don’t automatically disqualify you from active duty service, you should secure a waiver to enlist for military service.

How To Get A Waiver

The Army Directive 2020-09 contains all the rules and regulations you need to know about the waiver process. Applying for a waiver might seem as simple as filling up a standard form. However, you should prove that you’ve adjusted well to civilian life and that you’ve overcome the factors that may have challenged your application.

Your waiver request must have the following components:

  • A self-signed memorandum
  • Supporting documents. These may include police records, court documents, and other files that detail your offense and prove that you’ve changed since.
  • A General Office level endorsement, only if applicable

If you’re unable to obtain supporting documents, you should supply a detailed affidavit that discusses the event and punishment. This affidavit must include your efforts to obtain supporting documents. Your letters of recommendation should come from individuals who are responsible community leaders. These may consist of clergy, school officials, or enforcement officers.

Factors Affecting The Chances Of Obtaining A Waiver

Regardless of how detailed your waiver is, it would be best to remember that every waiver is approved on a case-by-case basis. However, there is a better chance for your waiver to be approved if the military branch you’re applying for needs workforce.

What factors may affect your chances of having a military career?

  • Number and severity of criminal activity. Having multiple offenses, regardless if they’re just misdemeanor offenses, can affect your application.
  • Date when the offense was committed. In general, juvenile offenses carry less weight than adult crimes. However, just because you were young when you committed aggravated assault doesn’t mean you’ll be pardoned automatically. It depends on the severity of the crime.
  • Ability to adjust to civilian life. The military may consider how you reintegrated into society after your offense. You should prove that you’re well-adjusted to civilian life for a chance to be accepted.
  • Security clearance requirements. If you’re applying for a military position with high-security risks, misdemeanor convictions may impact your application.
  • Department of Defense’s staffing needs. If the DoD struggles to recruit people into service, you have a better chance of getting accepted. This also depends on which branch you’re applying for.

Non-Waivable Charges: What Is Permanently Disqualified From The Military?

The US military will never waive certain offenses. If you’ve committed any of the following crimes, you are automatically disqualified from enlisting in service:

  • Any criminal violation of sexual nature
  • Any domestic violent offenses under the Lautenberg Amendment
  • At least five misdemeanor offenses
  • At least four traffic-related offenses within the past five years
  • At least two major misconduct offenses
  • Dishonorable discharge from previous military service
  • Distributing, selling, or trafficking illegal drugs
  • Presently under civil restraint like probation, incarceration, or parole

What Is The Easiest Military Branch To Get Into With A Criminal Record?

In general, it’s easier to join the Army or Navy if you have a criminal record. The most challenging military branch to get into with a criminal background is the Marine Corps.

Fraudulent Enlistment

Aside from the aforementioned criminal offenses, you may be kicked out of military service if you provide false information in your application. Regardless of whether your felony conviction was expunged, you should be honest throughout the recruitment process.

The US military conducts moral character screening, including checking if you have a criminal past. If you want to learn more about factors that may affect your enlistment aspirations, explore the SCRACVS website further.

Misdemeanors While Serving In The Military

But what happens if you commit misdemeanor offenses while you’re in the military? Well, it depends on the state criminal codes. The type of charge you’re given will affect your status in the military. Regardless of whether the offense is a felony or minor, you should be honest about the incident.


two officers sitting on sofa

If you hope to join the military someday, you should understand the circumstances that may prevent you from enlisting. Knowledge is power, and as long as you arm yourself with the information you need, you still have a good chance of enlisting, even if you have a criminal offense on your record.

Explore Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service if you want to learn more about the military recruitment process and other verification steps.


Can misdemeanors keep you out of the military?

A misdemeanor offense may not prevent you from serving in the military. However, multiple misdemeanor offenses may prevent you from being accepted into service.

Can you visit a military base with a misdemeanor?

Yes, having a misdemeanor offense in your background won’t prevent you from entering a base. However, multiple offenses might affect your enlistment application.

Can I join the military with pending charges?

No, you are ineligible to join if you have pending charges. You should ensure that all matters are settled before securing a waiver.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.