How can a Criminal Conviction Impact your Military Career in New Jersey?

Learn the Many Ways Being Convicted of a Crime can Affect Your Ability to Enroll, Serve, Remain, and Advance in the Armed Forces.

Enlisting and Serving in the Military with a Criminal Record in NJ

When you enlist in the military, you swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, the ultimate law of the land. Thus, when potential or enlisted service members commit crimes, they may not be able to join or remain in the military. However, a potential service member may be able to enlist despite a criminal history, depending on what a background check or security clearance shows. Below, our criminal defense attorneys discuss the many effects of criminal convictions on military enrollment, service, and career advancement, as well as how an expungement or special waiver from the military may help with clearing your record of a brush with the law in the past.

Impact of Criminal Convictions Once You are Enrolled as a Service Member

For military enlistees, few options exist for criminal backgrounds. There are many possible consequences if convicted during military service. For example, military service members convicted of crimes may face administration separation actions, the result of which may be a dishonorable discharge. The military may enforce an administrative separation action regardless of whether it is your first offense. An administrative separation is a military equivalent of firing you. You do not go through judicial proceedings, but your commander initiates proceedings to release you from the service.

How a Past Conviction can Impact Your Ability to Join

Aside from convictions while in the military, criminal convictions occurring before your enlistment may prevent you from being in the military. A routine criminal background check and security clearance will turn up criminal convictions if you have them. And if you have them, you are better off disclosing them than the military finding out later and charging you with a fraud crime for concealing them. The good news is that not all crimes or offenses disqualify you from the service. Much depends on the conviction and the service branch. The military does not like to see convictions, guilty verdicts, adverse adjudications, diversionary programs like Pre-Trial Intervention, or deferments. They feel more comfortable with acquittals or complete dismissals when allowing a recruit to enlist with a record. Convictions, guilty verdicts, adverse adjudications, diversions, and deferments confirm that you committed a crime, whereas dismissals for lack of evidence suggest you may not have committed a crime. The military might accept you even with an arrest and charges on your record if you did not commit a crime.

Crimes that May Prevent you from Joining the Military

The military expects you to fully disclose your history of offenses or suffer the consequences of violating federal law by withholding or misrepresenting the truth. A service member who fraudulently enlisted may be dishonorably discharged, lose their military benefits, and spend two years incarcerated. Understanding that specific considerations weigh in your favor may remove the temptation to hide your criminal past. For example, a run-in with the law that took place long ago with no further incidents may not prevent you from enlisting, but repeat offenses may. And if you were a juvenile at the time, your offense is more excusable in the eyes of the military. However, criminal convictions for violent or morally reprehensible crimes are likely disqualifiers.

Severe crimes may be less excusable than minor offenses, but each branch has its codes of ethics and moral standards regarding whom they place among their ranks. Understandably, the military does not want to enlist anyone who can endanger other service members, misrepresent the armed services, or resist authority. The military wants to eliminate disciplinary problems by not admitting potential members resistant to control and discipline. Criminal behavior may suggest potential problems in a military setting. However, each branch may be more flexible in times of low enlistments. Despite this, certain offenses never fly in a recruiter’s eyes.

Expungement in NJ if You Want to Enlist

Notably, sealing or expunging records does not erase the convictions. Landlords or employers may not see expunged records, but the military can see them all. While you may, by New Jersey law, expunge your records of criminal convictions if you qualify, you cannot avoid revealing expunged records to a military recruiter or prevent them from being visible in the screening process.

Special Permission for Criminal Background Waiver during Military Review

You may have to obtain an approved moral waiver or have a moral character screening. Perhaps your infractions are not grave. The military waives certain violations upon enlistment. You need a waiver for juvenile offenses, arrests, minor traffic violations (six or more), citations, disorderly persons offense guilty pleas, illegal possession of stolen property, and indictable crimes, such as burglary, robbery, controlled dangerous substance possession, and aggravated assault, among others. You also need a waiver for expunged convictions.

To increase your chances of receiving a waiver, you want documentary evidence to verify the charges requiring a waiver. You might also improve your profile with a letter of recommendation from a judge, probation officer, or other upstanding community members.

Basics of a Moral Character Screening

A moral screening is a more in-depth look at your financial and criminal background. A recruiter questions you about your legal history, including any arrests, charges, and convictions. They also ask about probation, traffic tickets, and juvenile court proceedings. In other words, they want to know about any legal problems, whether those charges turned into a conviction, probation, dismissal, or other disposition.

Standards for Enlisting in the Armed Services

What satisfies a recruiter in waiving a criminal history depends on which military branch you seek to join. For example, the army recruiter reviews your enlistment documents and passes your waiver request to those authorized to approve or reject it. The Army will not grant waivers for those with drug or alcohol abuse problems, serious criminal convictions, pending charges, and anyone imprisoned, paroled, or on probation.

The Navy considers four types of violations, from minor traffic violations to indictable offenses (felonies). You must get a waiver for six or more minor traffic violations, three or more minor non-traffic violations, one or more non-minor disorderly persons offenses (misdemeanors), and one or more indictable offenses (felonies). An indictable crime waiver is an exception, not the rule in the Navy.

Likewise, the Air Force has a hierarchy of crimes for waiver purposes based on categories from most to least serious crimes and adverse adjudications. Category 1 is for the worst crimes, and 5 is for the least. You need waivers for one or more convictions for category 1, 2, or 3 crimes, two or more in category 4, and six or more in category 5.

Our NJ Attorneys can Assist with Criminal Charges, Records, and Expungements if You Want to Serve in the Military

If you plan to enlist with or without an expunged criminal record, discuss your plans with a qualified criminal defense and expungement attorney at our firm. We can thoroughly evaluate your background and inform you of your chances of getting into the service branch of your choice with a background check, moral character screening, or waiver. And if you face criminal charges after enlistment, call on our experienced criminal lawyers to advise and defend you. You need an attorney who knows the criminal laws and the system in New Jersey from inside-out to provide you with the most robust defense. That’s what we do at The Tormey Law Firm. To receive additional assistance with your particular situation, contact us at (201)-556-1570 anytime for a free consultation.


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Experience You Can Trust

With unmatched knowledge and experience in the practice of law, the seasoned attorneys at The Tormey Law Firm are committed to serving their clients and tenaciously confronting the allegations against them.

We will examine every facet of your case in order to defend your constitutional rights and reputation. With a dedicated legal advocate to assist you, our attorneys will ensure that you are never forced to navigate the complex legal process on your own.

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Learn More About How to Fight Your Charges

If you've been charged with a criminal offense, disorderly persons offense, or traffic / DWI violation, you have the right to an attorney who will defend you against your charges and fight for your best interests. To learn more about how your attorney can fight to have your charges dismissed or reduced, click a link below to see our video library of legal defenses and strategies.

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