Can you join the military with a criminal record. It Depends. It depends on the severity of the crime, the circumstances and if you were charged with a crime and convicted. Each branch may handle the waiver process differently and to be honest it depends on how bad they need people to join the military. You may find that in times of war when the military is stretched thin, the waiver process maybe more favorable than times when the military is downsizing.
The United States military services make every attempt to assess the moral quality of potential recruits, and several categories of moral offenses may preclude enlistment. This is primarily accomplished based on criminal record.
It's important to note that there is no such thing as a "sealed record," or an "expunged record" as far as the military is concerned. The recruiting services have access to law enforcement and FBI investigative records, which quite often will list arrests in these categories.
Disclosing Criminal History
Even if an offense is not found during the recruiter criminal background check, it is likely to come up during a possible (probable) security clearance criminal records check. If an applicant fails to disclose criminal history and it is later discovered, the individual may be charged under federal law, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice for False Statement, and/or Fraudulent Enlistment.
Any offense which resulted in a conviction or "adverse adjudication" counts. Usually, if the charges were dismissed (without conditions), or resulted in an acquittal (finding of "not guilty"), they don't. However, sometimes the military will "count" an offense which resulted in a dismissal. For example, if you were caught shoplifting, and the charges were dismissed because the store owner didn't want to press charges, the military might count it.
On the other hand, if the charges were dismissed because the DA determined there wasn't enough evidence to prove you committed the crime, the military probably wouldn't count it. When determining whether or not an offense "counts" for enlistment purposes, the services are primarily interested in whether or not the applicant actually committed the offense, not whether or not a "legal" conviction resulted. Criminal offenses that fall into one of the below categories "counts" when it comes to enlistment purposes:
Conviction. The act of finding a person guilty of a crime, offense or other violation of law by a court or competent jurisdiction or other authorized adjudicative authority. This includes fines and forfeiture of bond in lieu of trial.
Adverse Adjudication. Any conviction, finding, decision, sentence, judgment, or disposition other than unconditionally dropped, unconditionally dismissed, or acquitted. Participation in a pretrial intervention program as defined below must be processed in the same manner as an adverse adjudication.
Pretrial Intervention/Deferment. Every state has a program by which offenses are diverted out of the regular criminal process for a probationary period. While the programs vary from state to state, they all require the defendant to meet some requirement (e.g., reporting or non-reporting probation, restitution, or community service), after successful completion of which the charge is disposed of in a way that does not result in a final adjudication of guilt. Charges disposed in this manner are processed as an adverse adjudication.
Each of the services has their own standards when it comes to criminal offenses, and whether or not the offense(s) are disqualifying:
Criminal History (Moral) Waivers
The waiver process is a very subjective one. The military recruiting chain of command will process the waiver request if they think you are a worthy candidate. Basically, they have to like you and see that you have changed from the rebellious rule breaker of your younger days, or just person who has had extremely bad luck in the past. The Military Services will require information about the “who, what, when, where, and why” of the offense in question. You should be prepared to have several letters of recommendation attesting to your character. These people should know you, but if you can get a high ranking officer to vouch for you, that will help you tremendously. But, these letters can be from a responsible community leader such as former teachers, school officials, ministers, and law enforcement officials.