Criminal convictions can have long-term collateral effects long after the actual punishment for the conviction itself ends. Having a criminal conviction can prevent you from getting certain jobs, living in certain places, and, as discussed in this article, joining the military. An expungement may help you avoid these collateral consequences and help you achieve your military goals. In this article, we'll explain the enlistment standards of the military, describe how new expungement laws may help you, and outline the expungement process.
Can You Join the US Military with a Criminal Record?
It is possible to join the military while having a prior criminal record; it just depends on what your conviction was for. Each conviction and case will be decided on a case-by-case basis to determine the nature and seriousness of the offense(s).
How the Military Treats Convictions and Other Court Dispositions
The different branches of the military are more concerned with the nature of your alleged criminal past than they are with whether you ended up with a conviction or not. If you were given a “first offender deal” where your case was deferred after completed a period of supervision, then the military will likely still treat it as a conviction if you admitted wrongdoing in court. Your criminal past may require you to submit a moral waiver or be subject to a moral character screening.
The Military's Moral Character Screening Explained
The military will subject an applicant to moral character screening if they have a criminal record or prior credit issues. The moral character screening process takes a deeper look at any and all prior run-ins with the police through a series of interviews and background checks. Honesty is key as an applicant's character is being examined, and lying to a recruiter or failing to disclose important information can be fatal to your military enlistment.
What is an Expungement?
An expungement is a legal process to remove a criminal conviction from your public criminal record. Under New Jersey law, you are allowed to expunge a conviction or episode of a criminal act through expungement if you qualify. Changes to expungement laws in 2021 have increased the accessibility of expungements to allow more people to clear criminal convictions from their records. Some of the benefits that expungement seekers will see under the new laws include:
- Earlier expungement eligibility: previously, people had to wait six years to apply for expungement; now, someone can seek an expungement once five years have passed from the end of their conviction.
- Immediate expungement eligibility for marijuana convictions: previously, people had to wait years to seek expungement for marijuana convictions.
- The ability to seek expungement while having multiple criminal convictions: previously, people could not even apply for expungement if they had more than one criminal conviction.
Other changes to New Jersey expungement law might apply to your situation. Make sure to speak to an experienced expungements attorney to see how an expungement may help you successfully join a branch of the US armed services.
Expungement Process in New Jersey
Once you have determined you are eligible, your next step is to file an expungement petition. An expungement petition must contain specific data, including:
- Your birthdate;
- Your arrest date;
- Any state laws that apply;
- Any court case numbers that apply;
- Your conviction date;
- The final disposition of your case; and
- An affidavit informing the court that you don't have any current criminal charges pending.
An expungement petition must be filed at the court of your most recent conviction. Once an expungement petition is received by the court, you will then get a hearing date for your expungement petition. If the prosecutor does not file any objections to your expungement petition, then it is possible that you may not have to appear for your hearing. If the prosecutor objects to your petition in any way, then you will likely have to appear to respond to the objections. If the judge grants your expungement petition, then you can have any related public criminal records maintained by the government erased permanently.
Can the Military See Expunged Criminal Records?
Yes, the military can see any and all of your expunged criminal records since they are a government agency. Expunged criminal records do not appear on public government databases when private citizens or companies do background searches because expungements only affect public records. The government maintains a private database that permanently documents anytime you have been arrested, charged, or convicted of a criminal offense or other violation.
Enlistment Standards for the Army, Air Force, and Navy
Different branches of the military have different enlistment standards and requirements. In the Army, an applicant will be examined by an Army recruiter to determine if a waiver is suitable for the prior offense. The Army does not grant waivers for applicants who have been convicted for more than one serious offense. The Navy separates offenses into four separate groups for the purposes of enlistment: minor traffic violations, minor misdemeanors, non-minor misdemeanors, and felonies. If you have more than one conviction in any of these groups, then you may need a waiver. The Air Force uses a system that separates convictions into five separate categories where Category 1 is the least serious, and Category 5 is the most serious crimes. More than one conviction in a specific category may require a waiver to be enlisted. If you have specific questions about your situation, then call us at Lento Law Firm so we can help!
Why Hiring the Lento Law Firm is the Right Choice
If you aspire to serve our country as a member of the United States military, then don't let a criminal conviction hold you back. Having an experienced expungement attorney on your side can help you erase a prior conviction and potentially clear the way for your enlistment. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to learn why hiring us is the right choice to help you prepare and file your expungement application. You can also contact us online.