Joining the Military with a Juvenile Record

It is becoming increasingly difficult to join the military with a juvenile record
According to one Army recruiter, recruitment standards are stricter today than they were a few years ago. This is partly due to the pullout from Iraq and drawing down of forces in Afghanistan. Today, a drug-related charge can render someone unfit for the Army. Offenses ranging from multiple minor traffic citations to felonies can be problematic. Offenses involving serious aggression or a weapon can automatically disqualify someone from enlisting. Domestic violence cases will raise red flags, and almost certainly any type of sexually related offense will disqualify a person from every branch of the armed forces—even if the case was disposed of with some kind of diversion program. Recruiters focus on the type of offense and whether there was any kind of “adverse adjudication” associated with the charges. Adverse adjudication includes any conviction, finding, decision, sentence, judgment, or disposition other than unconditionally dropped, unconditionally dismissed, or acquitted. Participation in a pretrial diversion program is considered an adverse adjudication.

In recent years, society has become less tolerant of behaviors that were once dealt with informally and not through the legal system. At one time, calling the parent was a greater threat than calling the police. Today, for example, school yard fights are no longer resolved by the school, the child, and the families. These incidents are frequently reported to the police. In many instances, a fight at school results in assault charges being filed. At home, siblings may get into a fight and someone calls 911. It is likely that one of them will be taken into custody and charged with domestic violence.

A juvenile record will not necessarily disqualify a person from enlisting
The military can choose to waive certain offenses. These waivers are generally reviewed by officials higher up in the chain of command. If someone does not qualify due to past delinquent conduct, he or she may request a waiver for the specific offense that renders them unqualified. The waiver procedure is not automatic, and approval is based on each individual case. A waiver involves an application process whereby the applicant is requesting that a particular branch of the military make an exception in his or her case. The burden is on the applicant to demonstrate that the waiver will benefit the military regardless of his or her past. Waiver authorities will consider the “whole person” concept when reviewing an application. In processing waiver requests, the military considers the “who, what, when, where, and why” of the offense in question. If past delinquent conduct is disclosed to the recruiter, having had the record sealed may increase the chances of receiving a waiver because it shows rehabilitation efforts on the part of the applicant. However, depending on the offense and the circumstances, it could also permanently disqualify the person from enlisting. The standards for waivers can be complex and are different for each branch of the military. The standards also change depending on world events and the need to expand or decrease the size of the armed forces. Currently, fewer waivers are being approved, in part due to the downsizing of the military.

Juvenile Vs. Criminal Law

The fundamentals of the two systems of justice — juvenile and criminal law — can be found principally in three different Texas codes. The juvenile system is outlined in the Texas Family Code, and the criminal system can be found primarily in the Texas Penal Code and the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

The two systems have basic similarities, including the right to receive Miranda warnings, the right to be free from self-incrimination, the right to an attorney during critical court proceedings and plea bargaining, the right to a jury at the delinquent/not delinquent or guilty/not guilty stage of a trial, the requirement that the state prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, pretrial detention, community supervision (probation), community service hour requirements and restitution when appropriate.

Differences in the two systems mainly exist because of the distinction in their purposes. The juvenile system’s principal function is to protect and rehabilitate a delinquent child, while it can be argued that the main goal of the adult systems is to punish a guilty offender.

Even the terminology created for the juvenile system is one based on civil rather than criminal standards. A juvenile is referred to as a respondent, not as a defendant. A juvenile is alleged to have committed a delinquent act rather than a criminal offense. A juvenile is generally not charged by an indictment or information; he or she is brought before a juvenile court by the filing of a petition. A juvenile is not arraigned in court at his or her first appearance, but is instead held to appear for a detention hearing. While a juvenile is detained and adjudicated, an adult is arrested and convicted.

Age determines the jurisdiction of a juvenile court while the type of offense determines the jurisdiction of a criminal court. Juvenile court procedures are usually informal and may be held privately, while criminal court procedures are more formal and open to the public. Identifying information about a juvenile, as a rule, cannot be released to the media, while information about an accused adult offender is considered public information. In the juvenile system, parents/guardians are encouraged and sometime required to be involved in their child’s rehabilitation, but not so in the adult system. A juvenile may be released into the custody of a parent/guardian while an adult will typically be required to post bail.

Under most circumstances, a juvenile’s adjudication/disposition records will be eligible for sealing, while for an adult there are only limited circumstances in which an expunction or order of non-disclosure may be granted. A juvenile who is certified as an adult cannot be sentenced to death for a capital offense that occurred before the juvenile was 18 years of age. Finally, the juvenile court’s main objective is to focus on the best interests of the child in determining what services or protections are needed to benefit the juvenile, while the criminal court generally focuses on invoking a punishment proportionate to the crime.