Photo of Child

How Your Criminal History May Affect You When Enlisting in the Army


The Military reviews the background of all applicants who volunteer to enlist. If an applicant admits to any law violations, other than minor traffic offenses, the military will complete a criminal record check where the applicant has lived, worked, and attended school in the last three years. They may disqualify individuals:

  • placed under any form of judicial restraint (probation, bond, imprisonment, and parole)
  • with significant criminal records; including juvenile offenses and records that have been expunged or sealed
  • who have demonstrated antisocial behavior or other character traits that may make them unfit to associate with military personnel

However, anyone may request a moral waiver. A moral waiver requests that the Military lets you enlist despite the charges against you. If one chooses to apply for a moral waiver , the Military may require you to answer questions on the "who, what, when, and/or why" of the offense in question. They may also require letters of recommendation from responsible community leaders. The Military will check for criminal records and applicants are required to answer questions regarding their criminal history when applying. Failure to let the Military know all information about one's criminal history will automatically result in discharge from the Military.

Criminal History and Sex Offender Checks

An applicant must report any records of arrest, charges, juvenile court adjudications, traffic violations, probation periods, and dismissed or pending charges or convictions, including those that have been expunged or sealed. If there are any pending charges, the Military will not allow the applicant to continue applying.

Sex offender checks will be run for every applicant. They will run a nation wide check.

Requesting a Moral Waiver

Moral waivers are required for all applicants with:

  • 1 or more adult or juvenile felonies
  • 2 to 4 non-minor misdemeanors
  • 3+ minor misdemeanors or non-traffic offenses
  • 6+ where the fine was more than $100
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia
  • Solicitation for prostitution

A waiver is also required for any applicant who has been convicted (or other adverse disposition) for:

  • Carrying a weapon on school grounds when a penalty was imposed by school officials
  • Possession of any illegal drugs on school grounds when a penalty was imposed
  • Act of violence including threats against any school faculty members, when a penalty was imposed
  • Any person adjudicated as a youthful offender

If an applicant requests a waiver, the military will decide whether or not they should grant it by questioning, investigating, counseling, and gathering information.

The applicant must prove that they have overcome their weaknesses and that they would be successful in the Army. One way to do this is by providing letters of recommendation.

Military recruiters are not allowed to deny a waiver request. They are also not allowed to refuse to forward the request. However, you must be eligible for a waiver. You will not be eligible if you have more than 2 felony convictions. Eligibility standards often change so contact your local recruiter if you have any questions. Applicants with a criminal history (regardless of disposition) but because of dismissed charges, plea bargains, or release without prosecution, will have to be reviewed to determine whether or not they require a waiver and/or are able to enlist. The reviewer will determine if a personal interview is required, and, if so, this may be done over the telephone.

Gang Involvement

If the Military believes that an applicant may be involved with an extremist organization group, and/or gang, the Commander may ask the applicant several questions to determine if she/he are able to join the army.

If the applicant admits to or is determined to be associated with or in a gang linked to criminal or extremist activity, he/she will not necessarily be denied enlistment.

Waiting Periods

Waiting periods are required for applicants who have been recently confined. The Army will use these periods to evaluate whether the applicant has been rehabilitated.

Army Waiting Period Regulations:

  • If an applicant was on parole, probation, or suspended sentence she/he may apply for a waiver as long as the civil restraint has been concluded and all court order requirements completed.
  • If an applicant was recently confined as a juvenile or an adult for less than 15 days, a 3 month waiting period is required
  • If an applicant was recently confined as a juvenile or an adult for more than 15 days, a 6 month waiting period is required
  • No waiting period is required for minor traffic violations when state law or court practices imposed periods of restrictions, supervision, or informal probation periods until the fine was paid.
  • No waiting period is required for unsupervised traffic probation for minor traffic offenses

Back to Top
Back to Publications