The draft or conscription is the mandatory military service for adult men who are able. The United States has enacted drafts for many wars. The first conscription in the US was for the American Revolution.
In July 20, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln enacted the second draft. At that time convicted felons were not exempted.
President Wilson got authorization to enact a draft after more than six weeks into WWI. Wilson had estimated that he needed one million men, ages 21 to 30. Before it was over, he had requested 5 million men. Prisoners and ex-convicts were deemed morally unfit for duty and placed in Class V. But, there were 100 convicted felons on parole who were drafted. They served as Class I frontline combat troops and were decorated and pardoned.
World War II had a draft. Actually, FDR drew from a peacetime conscription of 1940. All males between the ages of 18 and 65 were required to register; those who turned 18 after January 1, 1943 registered on their 18th birthday. The registration cards did not even ask applicants about their criminal history. Class IV was deferment “…specifically by law or because unfit for military service.” Class IV-F was a deferment category for men who were physically, mentally, or morally unfit.
When the Selective Training and Service Act was enacted in 1940, parolees, probationers and inmates went into the military. Until 1940, selection for military service was supposed to have been governed by a federal statute of 1877, “…no person convicted of a felony shall be enlisted or mustered into military service.”
There were drafts for the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Both of these campaigns raged during the Cold War. During the Korean War, Class I-F deferment was for men physically, mentally, or morally unfit. Class IV-F deferment during the Vietnam War read simply, “Unfit for military service.”
These types of deferments would typically exempt felons from being drafted into the military. But, these wars all had times where they were stressed for personnel. If you were a felon during any of these campaigns you probably would have been drafted. Historically, those with money always evaded the draft through political connections, college deferments, or a doctor’s letter.
This blog post will cover whether a felon can be drafted in the military.
- Felons and The Draft Today
- The Initial Screening
- A Felony Waiver
- Seeking Remedy Through The Courts
- Helpful Resources
Felons and The Draft Today
Today, the closest thing to a draft is the Selective Service. Although we have an all-volunteer military, we still require Selective Service registration for males age 18-25.
All branches of the military seek individuals who meet “moral character standards.” With a felony record the military will consider that you do not meet those standards. However, if the military agrees to waive some of its enlistment standards, you can become a soldier or a marine. Note that you will be specifically asked about your criminal history.
The Initial Screening
For all branches of the military you must get screened for enlistment. It is a very thorough process conducted by the United States Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM).
Your sealed and expunged cases will be reviewed. It is best to be truthful about your criminal history as far back as when you were a child. It will all be disclosed anyway. If you give false information or if you are not entirely honest it is considered a federal offense.
If you are set on being in the military you may be eligible for a felony waiver. Some waivers may be approved while others will not be. If you get a waiver, it still does not mean that you will be accepted into the military.
You must prove that you have overcome your disqualifications and that you are rehabilitated. A reentry program can assist you with your rehabilitation. Reentry programs are located in every state. They can be an invaluable tool to help connect you with the resources you need like housing and family reunification.
See if you can provide letters of recommendations from school officials, clergy, or police officers. This will weigh heavily upon military leaders. The military will review your application and consider you and your case as a whole. They will weigh the good with the bad. The following are some key points which will be considered regarding your offense:
- Its nature and seriousness
- Frequency or time elapsed
- Your age at the time. It works in your favor if a great deal of time has passed
- The likelihood of your committing a new offense
A Felony Waiver
In any event, you will need to get a waiver of your felony offense. The military has its own definitions of what constitutes a felony. Only some of them will correspond to state definitions.
In the past, felons are more likely to get waivers and be drafted when there are increased demands. Depending on your criminal history you might not qualify for certain positions.
The following are crimes for which you can not get a waiver:
- Assault with a dangerous weapon, including spousal abuse
- Breaking and entering
- More than one incident of driving drunk
- Credit-card fraud
- Kidnapping, including parental kidnapping of a child
Unlike the events during WWI, you can not enlist if you are on probation or parole, in jail, or have pending charges. To understand how and if you can get in, speak to a recruiter. A recruiter can explain what opportunities exist for you in the armed forces.
In recent years, the army has begun to actively recruit felons straight out of prison. Since 2007, the army and the Marine Corps began to increase their issuance of waivers. The army calls them conduct waivers. As of 2017, the military will not always turn you away if you test positive for marijuana.
Seeking Remedy Through The Courts
If you have expunged or sealed your conviction it improves your chances dramatically. You will still need to present all the information about your cleared record to military officials. Remember, during the screening process the military will be able to see all of your records no matter what.
The process of expungement or getting your records sealed depends on the state where you live. You should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney for this and be honest about your situation.
You will need to demonstrate initiative—that you are actively attempting to assimilate back into society. This can be done by going to counseling, advancing in your education, and being gainfully employed.
Completing some type of re-entry program is extremely helpful toward self improvement. You must demonstrate that you are rehabilitated.
With the military, you will not be able to claim that you do not have a felony record. The military will be able to see your expunged or sealed conviction.
If you never committed the crime for which you were charged you can seek a pardon or a Certificate of Actual Innocence.
A pardon is a form of clemency. You are forgiven for your crime but you still have your felony record. Since the military can see you record anyway, this might be a good option for you.
A Certificate of Actual Innocence says that you are innocent and that you should have never been arrested. It states that the criminal mark should have never existed. You can not get a Certificate of Actual Innocence in every state.
In The Case of Florida
In Florida you can have your record expunged or sealed. However, state and federal law enforcement agencies will still have access to your records. Judges have access to your sealed records online.
If you are a defendant you might have to reveal your felony conviction. For example, if you are trying to become a court appointed guardian.
Many employers will still have access to your sealed or expunged records.
In Florida, expunging or sealing a record does not update onto federal or private databases. Private companies can purchase the information from the counties and state.
Measures slated under the Clean Slate Clearinghouse involves low-level convictions and cases with no convictions. It helps make people aware that they are eligible to get their record cleared. It also eliminates the cost of attorneys and other fees for the process. Pennsylvania has already enacted a clean slate law. Utah and Connecticut are set to follow suit as well as other states.