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Military Service & Criminal Law

There are seven branches of the U.S. Military including the Army, Army National Guard, Navy, Space Force, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Coast Guard. Each of these branches of the armed forces requires the potential military candidate to undergo a criminal background check.


The criminal background screening searches for criminal records, arrests, credit problems, and even juvenile delinquency cases. Federal law requires that the candidate for military service disclose all information concerning his or her criminal background even if a criminal arrest or conviction was later diverted, deferred, dismissed, sealed or expunged. Willful failure to disclose information is a federal crime and will lead to denial of military enlistment.


Note: This article deals primarily with DUI cases as they relate to military enlistment. Some information is also provided for active-duty personnel and veterans who are charged with DUI. For more information on crimes other than DUI crimes as they relate to military service, please contact our criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation.

DUI & Military Recruits: Nearly all branches of the military classify driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) as a serious offense as it is synonymous with substance abuse. For this reason, a potential military recruit with a DUI conviction or arrest may have a hard time enlisting into the military, and an enlisted person (reservist or active duty) may be discharged from military service, including the United States Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, Space Force, Army National Guard, and Coast Guard.

The reasons for excluding a recruit or discharging an enlisted person from the military upon a DUI arrest or conviction, include:

  • Military Traditions: The United States military has a long tradition of excluding persons with substance abuse problems and DUI is often seen as a sign of substance abuse to military recruiters and enlisted personnel. In turn, substance abuse among enlisted service members reflects a poor appearance on the military as whole.

  • Driver’s License Issues: Military service often requires enlisted service member to drive to and from a military base. This is especially true with military reserve personnel. DUI arrest and convictions could make it difficult, if not impossible, for military service member to appear for duty

  • Operating Military Equipment: Military equipment and vehicle operations requires a steady hand and a clear mind; many lives could be placed in jeopardy if military equipment and vehicles are operated by persons who are either under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or by persons who are physically affected by the lack of alcohol or drugs (substance abuse withdrawals)

  • Security Clearance: An enlisted military service member will face difficulty in obtaining security clearance with a DUI on his or her criminal record. This makes military advancement difficult for the individual and selection of service members capable of advancement smaller for the military.

Waiver Issues: In some cases, it might be possible for a potential military recruit to join the military despite having an arrest or conviction for DUI on the potential military recruit’s criminal record. A waiver means the military branch is willing to waive the normal disqualification that results from a DUI arrest or conviction.

Note: For purposes of military waivers, a DUI includes an arrest or conviction of any crime that involves driving any type of vehicle or vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, regardless of whether that crime was either reduced to a wet reckless, diverted, sealed, expunged, or how the defendant plead in criminal court (not guilty, no contest, guilty, etc.).


Military waivers are considered on a case by case basis but military recruits hoping to be granted a waiver should be aware that every condition or term of a DUI probation sentence must be completed without issues, including any Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requirements, before the military will consider whether or not to grant a military waiver. Other considerations the military will likely make in deciding whether or not to grant a military waiver after a DUI arrest or conviction include:

  • Whether the DUI arrest or conviction is for a felony, a misdemeanor, or resulted in injury

  • Whether the prospective military recruit has any other criminal record

  • Whether or not the DUI was dismissed, sealed, diverted, or reduced to a misdemeanor (from a felony) or to a wet reckless

  • The Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of the military recruit at the time of DUI arrest

  • Whether or not the prospective military recruit enrolled in any rehabilitative programs to address his or her possible substance abuse issues

  • How old the DUI is (in terms of distance in the past)

  • Any letters of recommendations or endorsements from persons not related to the potential military recruit (preferably employers, teachers, community leaders, law enforcement, etc.)

  • The personnel needs of the military branch at the time of potential enlistment.

Note: Recruiter can be very helpful in applying for a military waiver.

DUI & Enlisted Military: Military law provides that ‘any personnel who operates or physically controls a vehicle, aircraft or vessel in a reckless way or while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs can be court martialed and face a dishonorable discharge possibility.’

It is important to understand that a DUI arrest by itself, even without a conviction, can lead to a discharge from the military, regardless of whether the enlisted military service member is active duty or in the military reserves; however, discharge from the military is not required when an enlisted military service member is arrested or convicted of DUI. Every case is decided on its individual facts and circumstances. Other possible outcomes for enlisted personnel upon a DUI conviction: Pay and/or Rank Demotion, denial of future promotion, denial of reentry after military service term, and more.

DUI & Veterans: Veterans' Court is a program of rehabilitation offered in felony cases to military veterans and active duty service personnel who are suitable for criminal probation and suffer from addiction or mental health issues as a result of his or her military service. If a judge grants a veteran the option to take part in veterans’ court the District Attorney, defense attorney, and the court will create a program of rehabilitation, which is closely monitored by the court and specifically designed to meet the individual needs of the veteran in terms of treatment. In veterans’ court, the veteran’s criminal charges can be reduced or dismissed upon successful completion of probation.

To learn more about Military & DUI Arrests or Convictions, or how to defend against DUI criminal charges, contact our DUI attorneys today for a free consultation. Call today!


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