Criminal History Military Waivers

Criminal History And Joining the Navy / USMC

Marine Corps
••• Marines/Flickr

Long before you sign on the dotted line to join the military, there will be a background check to see if a recruit has created any crimes. Crimes such as multiple traffic citations to misdemeanors as a juvenile, and even felonies as an adult will be discovered by your recruiter during the first phase of the recruiting process. 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 Recruiter Interview

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. The more serious crimes will require higher level approval and generally more work by your recruiter.

In some cases the recruiter may tell you that you cannot join on the spot. Finding a recruiter that will be willing to work with you can be difficult, but if you really want to serve, you will find a way and stay persistent hunting for the right recruiter.

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


Juvenile: If a recruit has a determination by a judge or jury in juvenile court proceedings that the juvenile is guilty of crimes, 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:  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.

Conviction: If determined "guilty" by a judge or jury, whether reduced for expediency or not, as in "plea-bargaining," or plea to a reduced or lesser charge will be waived at the level appropriate for the original charges if eligible for waiver.

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.

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. 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

DON'T DO DRUGS! 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.