Can I Get Security Clearance With A Criminal Record?

Criminal charges can put your livelihood at risk if your work depends on military or civilian security clearance. Find out whether you can get security clearance with a criminal record and what could happen to your clearance-level job after a conviction.

What is a Security Clearance?

Colorado has over 38,000 military personnel across its six military bases, including the Space Force/Space Command headquarters and NORTHCOM/NORAD. Many military personnel, defense contractors, and civilians who work in those facilities need security clearance to obtain and maintain employment. Security clearances are licenses issued by the federal government to allow individuals access to classified information. There are three levels of security clearance:

  • Confidential
  • Secret
  • Top secret, including both Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (SCI)

They are issued to individuals based on their character, particularly their honesty, trustworthiness, and financial responsibility. In addition to military personnel, employees in the intelligence community, medicine, finance, education, federal law enforcement, or telecommunications may also require security clearances to do their jobs.

The security clearance process can take months or more than a year to complete, and clearances must be renewed periodically, depending on the level of clearance. Servicemembers and Department of Defense civilian employees can also be subject to random and continuous investigations between their security clearance renewals. Those who have them must be careful not to do anything to strain the government’s trust or risk losing their clearance and likely their job.

Can I Get Security Clearance with a Criminal Record?

In applying for security clearance, you will be required to disclose every aspect of your criminal record on the “Questionnaire for National Security Positions” (Standard Form 86), including if you have:

  • Ever been charged with a felony offense
  • Ever been charged with a drug, alcohol, firearm, or explosives offense
  • Ever been charged with a domestic violence offense
  • Been arrested in the past seven years (10 years for Top Secret security clearance)
  • Been subject to court martial or military disciplinary proceedings
  • Are currently facing criminal charges

It is important to note that the duty to report triggers long before conviction and depends on the original charges rather than any later plea agreement that might reduce them. For example, you may be charged with a felony, but your criminal defense attorney might help you negotiate the charge down to a misdemeanor. Even though the misdemeanor you are convicted of may not require disclosure, the original felony charge will be enough to trigger the reporting requirement.

Disqualifications for Security Clearance

Just because you report a criminal charge or arrest doesn’t mean you can’t get security clearance with a criminal record. However, a criminal history will make examiners look more closely at your background and character. Automatic disqualification only applies to:

  • An unlawful user or addicted to a controlled substance
  • Deemed mentally incompetent by a doctor
  • Dishonorably discharged from the armed services

If you do not fit into those categories, examiners will look at your criminal history and other factors to determine whether security clearance can be granted. Crimes related to dishonesty, substance abuse, or those that could make a person vulnerable to coercion are the most difficult to overcome.

Mitigating Factors in Favor of Clearance

In awarding security clearance despite a criminal history, the examiners will consider other positive factors that could mitigate or reduce the impact of your conviction, such as whether:

  • It was an isolated incident
  • You were pressured into committing the crime
  • It involved involuntary criminal conduct
  • The charges were dismissed, or you were acquitted

Rehabilitation After a Criminal Conviction

The evaluators will also look at what has happened since your conviction to see if you have been rehabilitated. This might include:

  • The age of the conviction (without later arrest or incidents)
  • Whether restitution was paid
  • If you completed parole or probation without violations
  • If you have completed any treatment programs
  • Intervening job training
  • Advanced degrees or further education
  • Your employment record
  • Positive community involvement

Protecting Your Security Clearance from Criminal Charges

If your livelihood depends on your security clearance, avoiding criminal activity is the best course of action. However, should you be arrested, hiring an attorney who understands the impact of the arrest, charges, and conviction on your ability to work is best. In some cases, there may be diversion programs to help you avoid a conviction. In others, legal defenses could help you get an acquittal that will help mitigate the charge's effects.

At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorney, Ryan Coward, is a veteran. We know how to address state criminal and court-martial issues for service members and civilians who depend on their security clearance to make their living. Not only can we provide representation in the criminal case, we can also represent clients in proceedings related to security clearances, to include responses to Statement of Reasons (SOR) and Administrative Security Clearance Hearings.  We are here to serve you and will see you through the civilian criminal court and security clearance adjudication processes. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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