Criminal History Military Waivers

Marine Corps
••• Marines/Flickr

As with the other services, the United States Marine Corps and United States Navy screen applicants for "moral qualifications" (criminal history). This is done:

a. To prevent enlistment of persons whose social habits, such as theft, arson, resistance to authority, etc., are a threat to unit morale and cohesiveness.

b. To screen out persons who would likely become serious disciplinary problems in the Navy and Marine Corps, and who would consequently divert resources from the performance of military missions.

c. To ensure enlistees and their parents that the enlistee will not be thrown into close association with criminals.

    Applicants with no criminal convictions, fines, or periods of restraint are morally eligible for enlistment. However, the voluntary disclosure, or recruiter discovery, of any form of police/criminal involvement by an applicant may require a waiver of the moral disqualification.

    It's important to note here that federal law requires applicants to divulge all criminal history on recruiting applications, including expunged, sealed, or juvenile records. Additionally, in most states, such records are accessible to military investigators, regardless of what you have heard to the contrary.

    The process begins with an interview with the Recruiter, asking the applicant about any records of arrest, charges, juvenile court adjudications, traffic violations, probation periods, dismissed or pending charges or convictions, including those which have been expunged or sealed. ​Providing false information, or withholding required information is a federal offense, and individuals may be tried by Federal, civilian, or Military Court. 

    If the applicant admits to an offense or the recruiter has reason to believe the applicant is concealing an offense, or a record is indicated during the Entrance National Agency Check (ENAC), then the recruiter will request a complete criminal record from local law enforcement agencies.

    Some offenses can be waived, and others cannot. Different offenses require waiver approval at different levels in the recruiting chain-of-command.

    It's important to note that applicants who require a waiver are not qualified for enlistment, unless/until a waiver is approved. The burden is on the applicant to prove to waiver authorities that they have overcome their disqualifications for enlistment and that their acceptance would be in the best interests of the Military. Waiver authorities will consider the "whole person" concept when considering waiver applications.

    In general, waivers are required for:

    • Five to nine minor traffic offenses
    • Two to five more serious traffic offenses
    • Two or more Class 1 minor non-traffic offenses
    • Two to nine Class 2 minor non-traffic offenses
    • Two to five serious offenses
    • One felony

    Individuals with ten or more minor traffic offenses, six or more serious traffic offenses, ten or more Class 2 minor non-traffic offenses, six or more serious non-traffic offenses, or more than one felony are not eligible for a waiver.

    Definitions and General Guidelines

    Adverse Juvenile Adjudication

    a. Determination by a judge or jury in juvenile court proceedings that the juvenile is guilty of, or that the individual committed the acts alleged in the petition or complaint, based either on the merits of the case or on the juvenile's admission of guilt or plea of guilty, and that the determination was recorded in the court's records, and

    (1) Regardless of whether sentence was then imposed, withheld, or suspended, and,

    (2) Regardless of subsequent proceedings in the same case to delete an initial determination of guilt from court records, based on evidence of rehabilitation or a satisfactory period of probation or supervision. Examples of "subsequent proceedings" used in juvenile courts in the United States are: "expungement," "record sealing," reopening the case to change the original finding of "guilty" or "delinquency," or the plea of "guilty" or admission of the truth of the allegations in the petition to "not guilty," dismissal of the original petition, setting aside the adjudication of "delinquency." Such subsequent proceedings merely recognize rehabilitation and do not alter the fact that the juvenile committed the act for which the individual was tried.

    b. The term "adverse juvenile adjudication" is an adjudication as a juvenile delinquent, wayward minor, youthful offender, delinquent child, juvenile offender, incorrigible, and a declaration of the juvenile as a ward of the court, or an award of probation or punishment by a juvenile court as a result of an offense. The term "ward of the court" does not include the adjudication of a juvenile as a "dependent," as "neglected," or as "abandoned."

    c. For purposes of a waiver, processing will be based on the severity of the specific offense for which an applicant was adjudged. The offense's severity will be determined by the Uniform Guide List for Typical Offenses, above or by the notes contained therein if the offense is not specifically listed by name. Once the request for a moral waiver is at the proper decision level, factors such as the applicant's age at the time of the offense, the actual sentence imposed by the court, etc., will be considered.

    Community Service: A sentence of a specific amount of labor to be performed for the benefit of the community at large. Community service is a form of fine or restitution but is not a form of restraint. Applicants who have been directed by judicial authority to perform community service are not eligible for enlistment until such service has been completed and the appropriate waiver has been granted.


    a. Determination of "guilty" by a judge or jury, based either on the merits of a case or on a defendant's plea of "guilty" or of "nolo contendere":

    b. Sanctions imposed by a law enforcement or quasi-law enforcement agency in place of an official court hearing or trial will NOT BE considered "convictions." Sanctions of this nature require a review by the Recruiting Service. See the following examples.

    Note: As a general rule of thumb, any requirements imposed by an officer of the court (i.e., judge, magistrate, district attorney, assistant district attorney, juvenile officer, or probation officer), will be viewed as a conviction for enlistment purposes. Pretrial intervention or diversionary programs will be considered a "conviction". Similarly, requirements imposed by law enforcement officials, (i.e., police, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, or state troopers), will be viewed as a sanction. The key question is, "Was this a formal program of the court?"

    c. Convictions or charges that have been reduced for expediency, as in "plea-bargaining," or plea to a reduced or lesser charge will be waived at the level appropriate for the original charges.

    • (1) Regardless of whether sentence was then imposed, withheld, or suspended; and
      • (2) Regardless of subsequent proceedings in the case to delete an initial determination of "guilty" from court records because of evidence of rehabilitation or completion of a satisfactory probationary period. Examples of "subsequent proceedings" used throughout the United States in adult offender cases are: "pardon," "expungement," reopening of the case to change the original finding of "guilty" or pleas of "guilty" or "nolo contendere" to "not guilty" and dismissal of the charge, "amnesty," or setting aside of conviction. Such subsequent proceedings recognize rehabilitation, but do not alter the fact that the offender committed the criminal act.
        • (1) An applicant is caught by the police defacing public property by painting graffiti on a bridge. The officer directs the applicant to sandpaper the bridge until it is clean, at which time he will forget about the incident. This is a sanction and requires review by the recruiting service.
        • (2) An applicant is caught by the police defacing public property by painting graffiti on a bridge. The applicant is charged but subsequently referred to a county-sanctioned juvenile first offender's program. Although the applicant never appears in court, and probably has no court record, he requires a waiver as if convicted.

          Expungement: Some states have established procedures for the subsequent "expunging of the record," "dismissal of charges," or "pardon" upon evidence of rehabilitation of the offender. Such action has the legal effect of extinguishing the initial "conviction" or "adverse juvenile adjudication" so that, under state law, the applicant has no record of conviction or adverse juvenile adjudication. In spite of this action, the record must be revealed and a waiver of the applicant's disqualification(s) is required at the proper enlistment decision level.

          Nolle Prosequi: "Nolle Prosequi" is a declaration that the plaintiff in a civil case, or the prosecutor in a criminal case, will drop prosecution of all, or part, of a suit or indictment. Nolle Prosequi" is an unresolved judicial proceeding. It is not considered a form of restraint ​and is not necessarily a bar to enlistment. It is, however, considered a conviction for enlistment purposes and a waiver is required. Accordingly, an appropriate level review is required prior to enlistment to ensure that the court's finding of nolle prosequi was based on the merits of the individual case and not to facilitate enlistment into the Armed Forces.

          If court documents by court authorities (i.e. Judge, DA, A.D.A.) showing the "nolle prosequi" were the result of insufficient evidence to convict or charge, then this will not be viewed as a conviction.

          Nolo Contendere: "Nolo Contendere" is a plea made by a defendant in a criminal action equal to an admission of guilt. With this plea, a defendant is subject to punishment, but leaves open the possibilities for denial of the alleged facts in other proceedings. A waiver is required.

          Probation: The suspension of a sentence of an individual convicted but not yet imprisoned for that conviction, on condition of continued good behavior and regular reporting to (under the supervision of) a probation officer or other agent designated by the court. Regional legal terms synonymous to "probation" will be treated exactly as probation is used throughout this information page.

          Restraint: "Restraint" includes suspension of a sentence (to include unconditionally suspended sentences), confinement or incarceration in any institution, probation (to include unsupervised unconditional probation), or parole.

          Sealed Juvenile Records: Several states have provisions for "sealing juvenile records" which serves to limit disclosures on the part of law enforcement officials and judicial authorities. In spite of the legal effect of such action, the applicant must reveal the record, and a moral waiver must be granted to authorize enlistment in these cases.

          Unconditional Suspended Sentence and Unsupervised Unconditional Probation

          An unconditional suspended sentence and unsupervised unconditional probation are considered a suspended sentence and probation imposed by a court, respectively, even though the court imposes no conditions:

          a. Regarding an individual's freedom of movement, or

          b. Requiring the payment of damages, or

          c. Requiring periodic reporting by individuals to an officer of the court (to include a probation officer), or

          d. Involving supervision by an officer of the court (including a probation officer) upon the individual.

            Applicants currently under these forms of restraint are not eligible for enlistment until the term of the sentence or probation has been fulfilled.

            Enlistment As An Alternative To Prosecution

            Applicants may not enlist as an alternative to criminal prosecution, indictment, incarceration, parole, probation, or other punitive sentences. They are ineligible for enlistment until the originally assigned sentence would have been completed.

            Special Requirements for Substance Abuse

            No drug-related waiver will be considered without a signed, complete copy of the Drug Abuse Screening Form.

            Waivers will not be granted to non-prior service applicants who:

            a. Have a history of drug or alcohol dependency or addiction, or

            b. Have a court conviction for any drug offense (except simple possession of cannabis [30 grams or less], and steroids), or

            c. Admit to trafficking marijuana or other illegal drugs.

            (Note: "Trafficking" in drugs will be considered the unlicensed sale or trade of drugs for profit.)

            d. Applicants who have been disqualified for testing positive on the DAT at MEPS.

              Prior Service applicants who have received a court-martial, Nonjudicial Punishment (NJP), or discharge as a result of drug use or drug-related offense (to include positive urinalysis) are not eligible for enlistment/ reenlistment. No waiver is authorized. Applicants who have received an Entry Level Separation as a result of drug use or drug-related offense (to include positive urinalysis) require a mandatory 2-year wait. No waiver is authorized.

              Convictions for possession of drug paraphernalia will be treated, for the purpose of an enlistment waiver, as if they were convictions for possession of the actual drug associated with the particular piece of paraphernalia.

              The commanding officer of the recruiting station may waive the illegal use of prescription drugs prior to enlistment in the DEP when an applicant has been administered a prescription drug for medical purposes by a parent or person acting in the capacity of "loco parentis" when that drug has not been prescribed for the applicant. Examples include, but are not limited to, Valium and Tylenol III. All other illegal use of prescription drugs requires a waiver from the district commander.

              Each decision authority (e.g., the recruiter; NCOIC; the CO recruiting station; the CO, recruiting district; or the CG, recruiting region) may deem the extent of an applicant's pre-service drug involvement to be excessive and opt to unfavorably endorse the applicant's waiver request thereby terminating processing.

              Failure to Disclose

              An applicant may be discharged for failure to disclose use or abuse of illegal or prescribed drugs, to include convictions resulting from that use or abuse. The recruiter will advise the applicant of the serious ramifications which could result from failure to disclose.