An image of a navy slor and a navy fighter jet. The caption reads "can you join the navy with a felony? Answered."

The United States Navy (USN) is the largest and most capable navy in the world and is estimated to be larger, in terms of tonnage, than the next 13 navies combined! Founded in 1775 during the Revolutionary War, the Navy prides itself on its state-of-the-art fleet which requires the smartest and most capable sailors.

Can You Join The Navy With A Felony

As a country with thousands of miles of shoreline, “naval power is the natural defense of the United States” according to John Adams.

Like the Air Force, the Navy is also responsible for a significant stockpile of nuclear weapons. Primed and ready to launch at a moment’s notice, most the Navy’s nuclear missiles are kept on-board a fleet of ballistic missile submarines or boomers. With that much power at its disposal, the USN needs to ensure that it chooses new recruits with high moral standing.

Like any branch of the U.S. military, it can be difficult to join the Navy with a criminal history.

Having said that, when dealing with the Navy, there can be a waiver for everything. This is especially true if the Navy is struggling to meet its recruiting goals or if there is a major conflict.

So, can you join the Navy with a felony? The answer might surprise you.

A Booming Economy Means Fewer People Joining the Military

When the economy lags or goes into recession, many people turn to the Navy for financial stability.

However, when the U.S. job market is strong, college enrollments plummet and the U.S. military has trouble bringing in willing recruits. This is largely a result of high school graduates having their pick of several high paying civilian jobs immediately after graduation.

When the Navy has trouble finding new recruits, all the rules get thrown out the window. Think of the Navy recruiting policy as more of a guideline rather than rules that are set in stone. This means that timing is everything.

Still, the USN and other military branches put a strong emphasis on “Sound Moral Character.” But what does that mean?

What is “Sound Moral Character?”

Statistically, 1 in 3 adults has a criminal conviction in the United States. This means that there are approximately 70 million people who must contend with a less-than-stellar background check when applying for opportunities in the military.

The majority of those 70 million people want nothing more than to get on with their lives and be productive members of society.

Strictly defined, moral character is the existence of virtues such as integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty. In other words, it means that you’re a good person and a good citizen with a good head for what is right and wrong. Sound moral character also means that you have a respect for authority including state and federal law.

By and large, the Navy wants individuals who won’t discredit the United States during times of armed conflict. But it’s more than that; the Navy would prefer not to spend the time and money needed to deal with a “problem Sailor.”

Therefore, in many cases, a felony conviction could prevent a person from joining the Navy.

So, is all hope lost? Not yet.

Navy Enlistment Requirements Are Not Set in Stone

Recruitment standards are one of the few Pentagon regulations that are not set in stone. If needed in times of a shortage of Sailors, the Navy lowers the fitness requirements to make more individuals eligible for enlistment. In addition, the Navy is willing to consider Americans who have a criminal history, depending on the severity of the crime.

Called a “moral waiver” or “conduct waiver,” individuals with a criminal background can apply to be evaluated, depending on the type of felony conviction or misdemeanor. A Navy recruiter is typically the person who would walk an individual through the waiver process and your acceptance depends on several factors:

  • What was your felony conviction was for?
  • Are you currently facing criminal proceedings?
  • Was your conviction as a minor or as an adult?
  • Are you currently on probation?
  • Was your crime a one-time offense, or are you a repeat offender?

The Navy Moral Waiver Chart

Each potential recruit must disclose previous criminal history to a Navy recruiter. The severity of the crime will determine if you are eligible for a waiver, and if you are, who can approve it (also called the waiver authority).

Crimes are separated into three primary types of offenses:

Traffic Violations

You will need a waiver if you have 5 or more traffic violations and the waiver authority is the NRD Commanding Officer.

Non-Traffic Offenses

You will need a waiver if you have 5-7 non-traffic offenses and the waiver authority is the NRD Commanding Officer. 8 or more and you cannot join the Navy.


You will need a waiver if you have 1-4 misconduct offenses and the waiver authority is the NRD Commanding Officer. 5 or more and you cannot join the Navy.

Traffic Violations Examples:

  • Bicycle ordinance violation.
  • Blocking or retarding traffic.
  • Contempt of court for minor traffic offenses.
  • Crossing yellow line; driving left of center-line.
  • Disobeying traffic lights, signs, or signals.
  • Driving on the shoulder.
  • Driving uninsured vehicle.
  • Driving with blocked vision/tinted window.
  • Driving with expired plates or without plates.
  • Driving with a suspended or revoked license.
  • Driving without a license.
  • Driving without registration or with improper registration.
  • Driving the wrong way on a one-way street.
  • Failure to appear for traffic violations.
  • Failure to comply with the officer’s directives.
  • Failure to have vehicle under control.
  • Failure to signal.
  • Failure to stop or yield to a pedestrian.
  • Failure to submit a report following an accident.
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way.
  • Faulty equipment, such as defective exhaust, horn, lights, muffler, signal device, or wipers.
  • Following too closely.
  • Improper backing; backing into intersection or highway; backing over the crosswalk.
  • The improper blowing of the horn.
  • Improper passing, such as passing on right, in a no-passing zone, or passing a parked school bus.
  • Improper turn.
  • Invalid or unofficial inspection sticker; failure to display inspection sticker.
  • Leaving the key in the ignition.
  • Leaving the scene of an accident (when not considered hit and run).
  • License plate improperly displayed or not displayed.
  • Operating overloaded vehicle.
  • Racing, dragging, or contest for speed.
  • Reckless, careless or imprudent driving (considered a traffic offense when the fine is less than
  • $300 and there is no confinement). Court costs are not part of a fine.
  • Reserved for future use.
  • Seatbelt/child restraint violation.
  • Skateboard/roller skate violations.
  • Speeding
  • Spilling load on the highway.
  • Spinning wheels; improper start, zigzagging; or weaving in traffic.
  • Violation of noise control ordinance.

Non-Traffic Offenses Examples

  • Altered driver’s license or identification.
  • Assault (simple assault with fine or restitution of $500 or less and no confinement).
  • Carrying concealed weapon (other than a firearm); possession of brass knuckles.
  • Check, worthless, making or uttering, with intent to defraud or deceive (less than $500).
  • Committing a nuisance.
  • Conspiring to commit a misdemeanor.
  • Curfew violation.
  • Damaging road signs.
  • Discharging firearm through carelessness or within municipal limits.
  • Disobeying summons, failure to appear other than traffic.
  • Disorderly conduct; creating disturbance; boisterous conduct.
  • Disturbing peace.
  • Drinking in public.
  • Drunk in public; drunk and disorderly.
  • Dumping trash near the highway.
  • Failure to appear, contempt of court. (all offenses except felony proceedings)
  • Failure to appear, contempt of court. (felony proceedings)
  • Failure to stop and render aid after an accident.
  • Fare/toll evasion.
  • Harassment, menacing or stalking.
  • Illegal betting or gambling; operating illegal handbook, raffle, lottery, punch board; cockfight.
  • Indecent exposure.
  • Indecent, insulting, or obscene language communicated by telephone to another person.
  • Jumping turnstile (to include those States that adjudicate jumping a turnstile as petty larceny)
  • Juvenile adjudications; such as beyond parental control; incorrigible; runaway; truant; or wayward.
  • Killing a domestic animal.
  • Malicious mischief. (Fine or restitution of $500 or less and no confinement)
  • Purchase, possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products by a minor.
  • Removing property from public grounds.
  • Removing property under lien.
  • Robbing orchard.
  • Shooting from the highway.
  • Throwing glass or other material in the roadway.
  • Trespass (non-criminal/simple).
  • Unlawful assembly.
  • Unlawful manufacture, sale, possession, or consumption of liquor in a public place.
  • Unlawful use of long-distance calling card.
  • Using or wearing unlawful emblem/identification.
  • Vandalism (Fine or restitution of $500 or less and no confinement).
  • Violation of fireworks laws.
  • Violation of fish and game laws.
  • Violation of leash law.
  • Violation of probation.

Misconduct Examples:

  • Aggravated assault, fighting or battery (more than $500 fine or restitution or confinement).
  • Carrying of a weapon on school grounds (non-firearm)
  • Concealment or failure to report a felony.
  • Contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
  • Crimes against the family. (non-payment of court-ordered child support/alimony)
  • Criminal mischief (more than $500 fine or restitution or confinement).
  • Criminal trespass.
  • Desecration of a grave.
  • Domestic battery/violence not considered the Lautenberg Amendment.
  • Driving while drugged or intoxicated, or driving while ability impaired, permitting a DUI.
  • Illegal or fraudulent use of a credit card, bank card (value less than $500).
  • Larceny or conversion (value less than $500).
  • Leaving the scene of an accident (hit and run).
  • Mailbox destruction.
  • Mailing, to include e-mail, of obscene or indecent matter.
  • Possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia.
  • Prostitution or solicitation for prostitution.
  • Reckless driving, careless, or imprudent (considered a serious misdemeanor when the fine is $300 or more or when confinement is imposed).
  • Reckless endangerment.
  • Resisting arrest or eluding police.
  • Selling or leasing weapons.
  • Stolen property, knowingly receiving (value $500 or less).
  • Throwing rocks on a highway, throwing missiles at sporting events, throwing objects at vehicles.
  • Unauthorized use/taking of a vehicle/conveyance from a family member, joyriding.
  • Unlawful carrying of firearms; carrying a concealed firearm.
  • Unlawful entry.
  • Use of telephone, internet, or other electronic means to abuse, annoy, harass, threaten, or torment another.
  • Vandalism (more than $500 fine or restitution of confinement).
  • Willfully discharging firearm so as to endanger life; shooting in public place.

No Waivers Authorized

You will NOT be granted a waiver and cannot join the Navy if you have been convicted of:

  • Rape
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Carnal knowledge.
  • Forcible Sodomy.
  • Sodomy of a minor.
  • Prostitution involving a minor.
  • Indecent assault.
  • Assault with intent to commit rape.
  • Assault with intent to commit sodomy.
  • Indecent act with a minor.
  • Indecent language with a minor.
  • The kidnapping of a minor (by a person, not a parent).
  • Pornography involving a minor.
  • Any other sexual offense.
  • Or if you are required by any state or federal court, statute, or administrative regulation, to register as a sex offender.

Was Your Crime a One-Time Offense, or are you a Repeat Offender?

One of the many variables that the Navy looks for when considering a waiver is whether the felony was a one-time offense.

Repeat felony offenders are a red flag to Navy recruiters as this may signal a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of the USN.

Again, it is worth mentioning that all waivers are performed on a case by case basis. The best bet is to speak with a Navy recruiter.

What Exactly Does the Navy look For When Considering a Moral Waiver?

By now, we have established that you can, in fact, be accepted into the Navy with a prior felony conviction. But there are five primary factors that the USN will look at closely when considering a waiver:

  • Absence of later violations
  • Evidence of rehabilitation
  • Satisfactory completion of a period probation or parole
  • Needs of the Navy
  • Your ASVAB score, prior-service and any positive service that you have performed

All the conditions listed show that the USN is interested in evidence that you have rehabilitated yourself and are ready for active duty.

The most dynamic variable is always the “needs of the Navy.” In times of lower enlistment or national crisis, the USN has and will continue to allow people into the military who may not have been qualified otherwise.

In this sense, timing is everything.

How do you Apply for a Moral Waiver?

The process starts by speaking to a Navy recruiter. The recruiter will ask the applicant if they have ever been arrested, what crimes they may have committed, including traffic violations, and ask about any juvenile crimes; even those that may have been sealed.

Once the applicant admits to having a criminal history, the recruiter will request a complete background check from local law enforcement agencies.

The good news is that the Navy considers the “whole person” concept when approving waivers. Applicants who score well on their Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), have a higher chance of receiving a waiver.

In addition, applicants with outstanding high school grades or college credits will also benefit the waiver approval process.

The final piece to keep in mind is that there is no strict set of guidelines for this entire process. In a time of national crisis or war, the whole waiver process could be suspended.

The Appeals Process

If you need a waiver for criminal history, then you are already at a point where you do not meet the standards for enlistment. In this sense, the waiver itself is the appeals process.

Unfortunately, there is no process to appeal a waiver that has been denied by the Navy.

It is important to note that each waiver process is for one branch only. This means that a waiver that was denied by the Navy does not disqualify you from other branches of service like the Army, Air Force , Coast Guard or Marine Corps.

Yes, You Can Join the Navy with a Felony

The military can be a phenomenal place for a fresh start. The esprit de corps and camaraderie can forge friendships that last a lifetime.

The first step is to speak with a Navy recruiter in your hometown and discuss your criminal history in detail. The “whole person” concept means that you will be evaluated not just on the bad things you may have done, but the good things as well.

Armed with the knowledge of the process, good timing and a little luck, the Navy can be an excellent option for applicants with a criminal history.

Good luck and welcome aboard!