Being accused of domestic violence can create a great deal of fear and uncertainty about the consequences and how they affect your future. While this is pretty much true for everyone across the board, it’s especially troublesome for those who serve in the military or some type of law enforcement—or those who aspire to such careers. One of the first and most poignant questions asked by domestic violence defendants pursuing these careers is, “How will this incident affect my future in the military (or law enforcement)?”
Unfortunately, the news is not great, especially if you’re convicted of a crime. If you and your attorney can get the charges resolved without a conviction, you can often avoid long-term impacts to your career. But if any of the charges result in a domestic violence conviction, it will likely disqualify you from having a career in law enforcement or the military for the foreseeable future.
Why a Domestic Violence Conviction Disqualifies You From a Military or Law Enforcement Career
There are effectively two equally important reasons why being convicted of a domestic violence crime will likely keep you out of a career in law enforcement or the military. Let’s look a little more closely at both.
Reason 1: You’re banned from using firearms.
The ability to use a firearm is a key factor in both a military and law enforcement career. Unfortunately, one of the most immediate impacts of a domestic violence conviction involves the restriction of firearm rights. The Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 imposes a lifetime ban on gun possession for any individual convicted of a felony crime of domestic violence. In 1996, the Lautenberg Amendment extended that ban to anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor. The State of California has similar weapons bans in effect for those convicted of domestic violence crimes. If you aren’t allowed to own or possess a gun, you can’t serve in the military or work as a law enforcement officer. It’s that simple.
Reason 2: It’s a crime of moral turpitude.
Crimes of moral turpitude are defined as any actions considered morally wrong or offensive, particularly against society. Domestic violence is seen as an action that breaks the social contract and ruins relationships between individuals. As such, it falls under this umbrella of a crime of moral turpitude. Under federal law, being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude (such as domestic violence) makes you ineligible for military service. The vast majority of law enforcement agencies have similar rules. Thus, a domestic violence conviction will likely result in you being fired/discharged or denied a position on the grounds that you lack the moral character necessary for employment in these sensitive roles.
Consequences if You Are Currently Serving
So what happens if you’re already serving in law enforcement or the military and you’re charged with domestic violence? We should note here that the military has its own Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) which takes a strong stance against domestic violence. If you’re currently serving and you’re charged with domestic violence under UCMJ, you will likely face a court-martial for the alleged offense. However, you should also note that it’s possible to face charges both in criminal and military courts without it being considered “double jeopardy.” If your court-martial results in a conviction, you could face demotion at best, but the more likely outcome is a dishonorable discharge and military confinement. Likewise, if you’re convicted of domestic violence in a civilian court, you could face similar complications because the firearms ban now limits you from doing your job.
In law enforcement, a domestic violence conviction often means a termination of employment. Many law enforcement agencies have policies that prevent individuals with such convictions from serving, as it compromises their ability to perform their duties effectively and maintain public trust. You may or may not face limitations on your duties while your charges are pending trial, and you will likely be able to continue serving if your charges are dismissed, or you’re acquitted. (Sometimes, a good attorney can also negotiate a plea deal that allows you to plead guilty to a lesser, non-DV crime, enabling you to remain employed as a police officer.) But in most cases, being convicted for any domestic violence crime will cost you your position on the force.
Are There Alternatives for Getting Accepted into the Military or Law Enforcement with a Domestic Violence Conviction?
The short answer to both is yes—but it’s always a challenge. Let’s look at some options.
When Applying to the Armed Forces
Having a domestic violence conviction makes it very difficult to enlist in the military, mainly because of the ban on firearms. However, under very rare circumstances, the military may issue a “conviction waiver” or “moral waiver” that allows you to enlist. Factors that might influence this decision might include:
- The specific circumstances of your case (e.g., the strength of the evidence against you, the severity of the crime, etc.)
- The time that has elapsed since your conviction
- Your age at the time of the offense
- Whether you have fulfilled all the terms of your sentence
- Whether you have sought any kind of help or treatment
Barring the waiver, the only other possibility for enlisting in the military is obtaining a governor’s pardon for your conviction, which is very difficult. In most cases, even an expungement won’t release you from the federal firearms ban–only a governor’s pardon.
When Applying to Law Enforcement
If you apply for a law enforcement position with a domestic violence conviction, you’ll face similar challenges when applying to the military–with a few small differences. First, each law enforcement agency will have different policies on exceptions and waivers regarding crimes of moral turpitude. Second, California’s firearms ban extends only for ten years if your domestic violence conviction was a misdemeanor (versus a lifetime federal ban)—so some California law enforcement agencies may consider your application once the 10-year ban is lifted.
What About Protective Orders?
Protective orders can create a temporary complication for military and law enforcement personnel because, in California, a domestic violence protective order also prohibits you from possessing a firearm. (The same is often true for Military Protective Orders, or MPOs.) However, a protective order in itself is not automatic grounds for discharge or termination. You may be placed in a restrictive role while the order is in effect, but if the order is lifted without a conviction, your possession rights will typically be restored.
As you can see, domestic violence charges can result in serious and career-ending complications for those either employed in the military or law enforcement or aspiring to these careers. All told, the best way to avoid these disastrous outcomes is to avoid a domestic violence conviction if possible—and your best chance for doing so is by hiring a skilled California domestic violence defense attorney to help you navigate the process. Call our offices to schedule an appointment to discuss your case.