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How will my criminal conviction affect my security clearance?

Whether you are a servicemember in a branch of the United States military, a defense contractor or an employee of the federal government, you may have had to undergo the process of obtaining security clearance before you could begin your employment. Depending on the level of security clearance that you have, there are different requirements for maintaining and renewing that clearance. Will a DUI, a drug-related conviction or other criminal conviction affect your ability to maintain that clearance and do your job?

Levels of security clearance

As you may know, there are three levels of security clearance that civilian employees and military personnel can receive. The higher a security clearance level is, the more stringent the process of obtaining one is, and the more likely it is that a criminal conviction could affect your ability to maintain the clearance.

Confidential clearance is the lowest level, and controls access to information that could damage United States national security to some degree. Next comes secret clearance, which concerns information that could have a significant impact on national security if it were to fall into the wrong hands. Finally, top secret security clearance grants access to information with the potential to result in incalculable damage to national security.

The effect of a criminal conviction

If your criminal conviction occurred in the past, and you are now applying for security clearance, you will have to disclose the existence of the conviction in the forms you will submit. The governmental agency that you are applying to will determine whether or not your conviction disqualifies you for security clearance eligibility according to established guidelines.

If you already had security clearance when the conviction occurred, the officials in charge of security authorization in your governmental agency will review the circumstances of the conviction in order to determine which actions to take.

If your charge is for a felony, it is likely that the officials will revoke your clearance immediately. You could lose your clearance for non-felonies as well, especially if they are for the types of actions that demonstrate an inability to maintain your mental faculties, judgment and trustworthiness – such as certain drug charges. For minor infractions, it is possible that the officials will overlook them or give you a warning, depending upon the circumstances.

Losing your security clearance can be devastating for your career prospects. It is important to remember that there is a significant distinction between criminal charges and criminal convictions. If you have criminal charges on your records, but you were not convicted, make sure to report that accordingly.

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