Maybe you were caught shoplifting when you were 18 and got charged with a misdemeanor but only had to pay a fine. Or perhaps you drove home from a party when you were in your mid-20s, crashed into a tree, and got a DWI or even a DUI. Or, who knows, maybe you grew up in a tough neighborhood, had a bunch of felonies on your record and were sent to prison. You served your time decades ago, turned your life around and are now a law-abiding citizen.
The Sentencing Project is a Washington, D.C.-based research and advocacy center that works to reduce the use of incarceration in the United States and to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. They say that as of 2015, between 70 million and 100 million – or as many as one in three Americans – have some type of criminal record.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School is a nonprofit law and public policy institute. They said, also in 2015, that nearly half of Black males and almost 40% of white males have been arrested at least once by age 23.
Y’all, that’s a whole lot of people who have been arrested at one point or another.
For people with all these types of backgrounds, the same question has come up time and time again – can you get TSA PreCheck if you have a criminal record?
The simple answer? Maybe. It depends.
The TSA PreCheck program, of course, does a background check on all applicants. Their process includes looking at local, state and federal databases, as well as checking applicants against the no-fly list, criminal records and other potentially relevant sources of information. Applicants also have to submit fingerprints, so an FBI screening can be done.
In the end, the program only permits eligible, “low risk” travelers to enjoy expedited security screening at airports. If you have a history with the law, whether or not you’re considered “low risk,” or eventually can be considered as such, depends on when you got into trouble with the law, and for what.
According to this page of TSA.gov, you are permanently disqualified from PreCheck if you have any of the following offenses:
- Espionage or conspiracy to commit espionage.
- Sedition or conspiracy to commit sedition.
- Treason or conspiracy to commit treason.
- A federal crime of terrorism as defined in 18 U.S.C. 2332b(g), or comparable State law, or conspiracy to commit such crime.
- A crime involving a TSI (transportation security incident). Note: A transportation security incident is a security incident resulting in a significant loss of life, environmental damage, transportation system disruption, or economic disruption in a particular area, as defined in 46 U.S.C. 70101. The term “economic disruption” does not include a work stoppage or other employee-related action not related to terrorism and resulting from an employer-employee dispute.
- Improper transportation of a hazardous material under 49 U.S.C. 5124 or a comparable state law.
- Unlawful possession, use, sale, distribution, manufacture, purchase, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, import, export, storage of, or dealing in an explosive or explosive device. An explosive or explosive device includes an explosive or explosive material as defined in 18 U.S.C. 232(5), 841(c) through 841(f), and 844(j); and a destructive device, as defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(4) and 26 U.S.C. 5845(f).
- Threat or maliciously conveying false information knowing the same to be false, concerning the deliverance, placement, or detonation of an explosive or other lethal device in or against a place of public use, a state or government facility, a public transportations system, or an infrastructure facility.
- Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961, et seq., or a comparable State law, where one of the predicate acts found by a jury or admitted by the defendant, consists of one of the permanently disqualifying crimes.
- Attempt to commit the crimes in items (1)-(4) of this section.
- Conspiracy or attempt to commit the crimes in items (5)-(10) of this section.
Or you may only have interim disqualification from PreCheck, and then you may be eligible after a certain amount of years. Also from TSA:
Conviction for one of the following felonies is disqualifying if the applicant was convicted, pled guilty (including ‘no contest’), or found not guilty by reason of insanity within seven years of the date of the application; OR if the applicant was released from incarceration after conviction within five years of the date of the application.
- Unlawful possession, use, sale, manufacture, purchase, distribution, receipt, transfer, shipping, transporting, delivery, import, export of, or dealing in a firearm or other weapon. A firearm or other weapon includes, but is not limited to, firearms as defined in 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3) or 26 U.S.C. 5 845(a), or items contained on the U.S. Munitions Import List at 27 CFR 447.21.
- Dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation, including identity fraud and money laundering, where the money laundering is related to a crime listed in Parts A or B (except welfare fraud and passing bad checks).
- Immigration violations.
- Distribution, possession w/ intent to distribute, or importation of a controlled substance.
- Kidnapping or hostage taking.
- Rape or aggravated sexual abuse.
- Assault with intent to kill.
- Fraudulent entry into a seaport as described in 18 U.S.C. 1036, or a comparable State law.
- Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act under 18 U.S.C. 1961, et seq., or a comparable state law, other than any permanently disqualifying offenses.
- Voluntary manslaughter.
- Conspiracy or attempt to commit crimes in this section.
A person will be also be disqualified if they’re wanted or under indictment in any civilian or military jurisdiction for a felony listed above, until the want or warrant is released or the indictment is dismissed.
Besides what’s included as a permanent or temporary disqualifier, TSA agents also have the authority to make judgment calls on what constitutes a threat. For example, although not listed above, anecdotal evidence suggests that a DUI less than 10 years old can disqualify an applicant from acceptance into the PreCheck program.
Because the TSA website is not super specific about how an applicant qualifies (or not) for the PreCheck program, the TSA customer service line is available for questions. Their number is (866) 289-9673.
If you’ve applied for TSA PreCheck and received a Preliminary Determination of Ineligibility, the notification they send should explain the basis for the ineligibility determination. You do have the right to appeal the TSA’s determination, and it would prudent to do so if you think they’ve made a mistake (i.e. you had a DUI but it was 14 years ago, you had a conviction but it was dismissed, etc.) If you decide to go that route, look into hiring a TSA PreCheck appeal lawyer.
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