What Happens to a Member of the Military if Convicted of Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse charges are serious on their own, but they can have severe consequences for members of the military. That’s because the federal government has specific requirements for the conduct and ethics of anyone in the military (or in law enforcement, which has similar requirements) that are often more stringent than Virginia law.

When someone is convicted of domestic violence or abuse, they’re likely going to be barred from entering the military. Even a misdemeanor conviction could lead to a dishonorable discharge for someone who’s active military.

There are two primary reasons for this.

  • Moral turpitude. When a crime is defined as moral turpitude, it means the actions involved in the crime are considered morally wrong and often an offense against society. Domestic violence fits that category, as it’s deemed morally wrong and breaks a social contract of society (behaving respectfully and responsibly toward members of the household, whether family or not).
  • Firearm ban. Federal law dictates a lifetime ban on firearm possession for anyone convicted of domestic abuse, whether felony or misdemeanor. This is in addition to Virginia’s firearms laws that prohibit someone convicted of even misdemeanor domestic abuse from buying or transporting them. If they have a concealed carry permit at the time of conviction, they’ll lose that and won’t be allowed to take firearms already in their possession out of their home. For military members, this can make them unable to do their jobs, which could lead to a dishonorable discharge.

What Happens to Active Military Members if They’re Convicted of Domestic Violence?

The military uses something called the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and that code takes domestic violence very seriously. If even charged with domestic violence, a member of the military may find themselves facing a court-martial. The best possible outcome if convicted is a demotion, but it’s more likely that the military member would be dishonorably discharged or even placed in military confinement.

Even if the UCMJ doesn’t pursue the case, a civilian court conviction can lead to a dishonorable discharge.

Is Being Tried for Domestic Violence in Both Military and Civilian Courts a Form of Double Jeopardy?

U.S. law generally prohibits people from facing double jeopardy, which involves being tried multiple times for the same crime. However, just as it’s not considered double jeopardy when someone is tried in both criminal and civil courts for the same crime, being tried in civilian and military courts for the same crime is not double jeopardy.

Does a Domestic Violence Conviction Appear in Military Records?

When someone is given a dishonorable discharge due to a domestic violence conviction, that will be in their permanent military records. This can have significant long-term ramifications.

  • Background checks. Suppose someone’s conducting a background check (such as for a job or housing application) and finds the military records. In that case, they’ll see the conviction and dishonorable discharge, which may be grounds for refusing the application.
  • Ineligible for further military enrollment. The dishonorable discharge can make it largely impossible to enroll in another Armed Forces branch.
  • Loss of veteran benefits. Many benefits available to honorably discharged veterans may be denied to someone with a dishonorable discharge. That can include, but isn’t limited to, healthcare and federal loans.

Because the outcomes can be so severe, it’s crucial that a military member charged with domestic violence work with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Is it Ever Possible to Be Accepted into the Military with a Domestic Violence Conviction on My Record?

It’s possible, but not necessarily frequent or easy to accomplish. There are two avenues to pursue, both difficult.

  • Apply for a military conviction waiver (also known as a moral waiver). Sometimes, the military will issue a waiver allowing someone to apply to the military with a conviction on their record. They will look at various factors, including how severe the crime was, the evidence used against you, how much time has passed since the conviction, whether you completed the terms of your sentence, and if you completed any treatment program or sought therapy.
  • Gubernatorial pardon. This means that the state governor where the conviction occurred issues a pardon that says a specific crime has been forgiven. It doesn’t remove the crime from the record, but note that it’s been pardoned. However, this can be time-consuming; in Virginia, the applicant must have completed all terms of the conviction at least five years before applying for a simple pardon. If the conviction were for a felony, they’d have to apply for a Restoration of Civil Rights before applying for the simple pardon. However, the pardon must provide permission to own firearms. Without that permission, even a pardon may not make someone eligible to apply to the military.

What Should I Do if I’m in the Military and Charged with Domestic Violence in Virginia?

Call Scott Nolan Criminal Defense as soon as possible at 703-688-9236 to request a free case evaluation. Being convicted of domestic abuse has severe consequences on its own. For members of the military, it can be even worse. That’s why it’s vital that you work with our team of experienced, knowledgeable domestic abuse defense attorneys who can guide you through the specifics of your case, what the outcomes might be, and what could be the best approach to your defense.