Draft Registration and The Law

by R. Charles Johnson

Nolo Press, 1980


How to protect yourself

... When dealing with Selective Service it is important to realize that the system is not set up to protect your rights. In most cases your rights will be glossed over or denied unless you observe the rules closely and insist upon everything you are entitled to. By following the suggestions listed here you can help to insure that none of your rights get trampled upon.

1. Keep a file that contains everything Selective Service sends you, and a copy of everything you send to them.

2. Communicate in writing with Selective Service, whether it concerns registration, change of address, a request for deferment or exemption, an appeal, or anything else.

3. Use certified mail, return receipt requested, whenever mailing anything to Selective Service.

4. Keep Selective Service informed of your address. Not only is it the law that you must do so, but it is essential that mail reach you in time for you to exercise your rights.

5. Meet deadlines. In most instances you will have only ten or fifteen days or less to make your move. If you don't act within the deadline, you will have lost valuable rights at that point.

6. Be prepared. The system is set up to draft people on very short notice. Men who know ahead of time what they intend to do will stand a much higher chance of success.

7. Do not rely on oral statements from Selective Service personnel. Often office clerks or board members do not know the rules, and in any case an oral statement is difficult or impossible to prove later on. If you must deal with the system by phone, get the name of the person you speak with and write a letter to SS confirming what you were told on the phone.

8. When in doubt, submit a claim. If you think you might possibly qualify for(any of the) postponements, deferments, or exemptions (discussed in this book,)you have nothing to lose and possibly a great deal to gain by filing a claim.

9. Get help from a draft counselor. Draft counselors can look over things you receive from Selective Service, check things you intend to send them, and keep you informed of latest changes in the law or regulations that might affect you.

Draft counselors and lawyers

... The purpose of draft counseling is to inform people of their rights and obligations under the draft law, and to help people to make decisions that are right for them. Once you have made your decision, a counselor can help you deal with the bureaucracy of the Selective Service System. A lot of people seem to think that draft counselors can hand them a list of "ways to get out." Not only would that be impossible to do, it would also completely defeat the purpose of counseling. It is not a counselor's job to make decisions for other people, or to map out their lives for them. The purpose of counseling is to advise people of the probable consequences of their intended actions, and to help them find a course of action which will best serve their individual needs.



The Selective Service System exists because of the Military Selective Service Act - the draft law. That law has been on the books continuously since 1948 and is in effect right now. It authorizes the Selective Service System to exist, and authorizes the President to order draft registration, when and as he pleases, of men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six. He also has the authority right now to classify those men, order them for physical examinations, and do everything except actually order them to be inducted into the military.

At present, only men born in 1960 and later years are required to register. No one is currently being classified, ordered for a physical examination, or otherwise processed, but the possibility of those steps occurring is very real. Under the streamlined draft system, it could all begin very swiftly and without much warning.

It is important to remember that the entire system is in place and ready to go. Selective Service now has hundreds of paid employees and military reservists ready to staff the national, regional, and area offices. More than ten thousand volunteers have been appointed and trained for their jobs as members of local and appeal boards. All rules, regulations, forms and procedures needed to begin drafting have been completed and are in place. Selective Service has conducted several "dry run" exercises to test its ability to begin drafting at a moment's notice. f

Outside the Selective Service System, but working hand-in-glove with it, are the military-run Military Entrance Processing Stations (ME PS). These stations administer physical exams to all people entering the military, both those who enlist and those who are drafted. Only the EPS can find someone physically unfit for induction.

For inductions to begin, Congress would first have to pass a bill authorizing inductions (and presumably appropriating funds as well).11 That could occur after prolonged debate, or it could happen in one day, with no warning or debate. The same day Congress authorizes inductions, lottery drawings will be held to determine the order in which men will be drafted. That same day, those receiving low lottery numbers will automatically be sent orders to report for induction as soon as ten days later.

Claims for deferment or exemption from the draft will have to be made within that ten day period or forever given up.

As soon as induction orders begin going out, local boards and area offices will be activated to hear deferment or exemption claims. Physical examinations at MEPS will be given, perhaps on a massive scale of up to 7,000 per day, six days per week. The exams will be given on the day you report for induction. If you are found physically qualified and have not requested a deferment or exemption, you will be inducted into the military that day.

Your classification will determine whether or not you will be inducted. The Selective Service System uses twenty-one classifications to categorize men subject to the draft. If you are classified into some of those categories, your induction will be postponed. This is called a "deferment.' If you fall into certain of the other categories, you will not be subject to the draft at all. This is called "exemption."

At the beginning you will be presumed to be 1-A, eligible for draft. But if you act fast you can apply for reclassification to another category which will defer or exempt you from induction.

The urgent need to be prepared

When induction notices first go out, claims for deferment or exemption will have to be made within 10 days of the date the notices were mailed or forever given essential wishing to obtain a draft deferment or 1 exemption cannot afford to delay. With only days in which to request deferment or exemption, it is absolutely essential that claims be prepared well ahead of time. Once inductions begin, draft counselors will be swamped and unable to give individual attention to very many men, if any. Civilian doctors willing to document existing grounds for medical exemption will be able to see only a very few of those needing their services. The release of medical records alone could take far longer than ten days. The documentation needed for other deferment or exemption claims may not be available on such short notice. If you wait until it hits the fan, it may be too ate to duck.



People sometimes consider the possibility of enlisting in the military as an alternative to being drafted. If you want to join the military, that is your business. But before you do so, give some thought to this Chapter. If you don't want to go into the military, then enlisting in order to keep from being drafted makes about as much sense as destroying a village in order to save it (a bit of double-think that was popular during the Vietnam war).

Some men enlist, thinking they can get a better deal than if they are drafted. This is what recruiters would like you to think, but it is not necessarily true. If you do decide to enlist in the military the local recruiters will no doubt be very happy to help you, but before you do it a few words of caution are in order.

Reserves, National Guard & Coast Guard

During the Vietnam war it became common for people to enlist in a branch of the military reserves to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. While it worked then, people considering the reserves today should give it some deep thought. When the United States became involved in Southeast Asia in the mid-sixties, the military wanted to send thousands of troops overseas immediately. Draft calls shot up, but draftees take several months to train. In order to quickly meet the rising demand for trained personnel, tens of thousands of military reservists were called to active duty and many were sent to Vietnam. It was only later in the war that active duty strength was high enough to meet military manpower requirements, and the reserves became known as an outfit of weekend soldiers.

Similarly, many of the U.S. troops sent to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991 were military reservists. People who had joined the reserves thinking it would keep them out of battle had a very unpleasant awakening.

Even when is no war in the immediate future, enlistment in the reserves is a major commitment. Most reservists are required to enlist for a period of at least eight years. Anywhere from six months to two years of that time is spent on active duty. The remainder is spent attending "reserve meetings" one weekend each month, plus a full two weeks on active duty each year. Many reservists find such a schedule to be extremely stressful. They are civilians most of the time, but are required to play soldier or sailor during one full weekend each month in addition to spending their two week "vacation" on active duty each year.

A reservist who misses weekend reserve meetings can be punished by being placed on active duty for twenty-four months (less any active duty time already served) or for forty-five days (if he has already served two years or more on active duty). A reservist who does not report for the two-week activation each year can be court-martialed for being AWOL.

Another possibility some people consider is the National Guard. You should consider that Guard members, like reservists, are members of the military: Army National Guard members are in the Army, and Air National Guard members are in the Air Force. They are subject to a period of active duty (usually six months) and, like other reservists, are required to attend monthly meetings and annual activations under threat of permanent active duty assignment for missed meetings or courts-martial for missing activations.

Many National Guard members were ordered onto active duty and sent to the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991. Even if not sent to a combat zone, many Guard members have found themselves activated to "control" anti-war and civil rights demonstrations at home. Could you aim a loaded gun a someone you work or go to school with, and fire if ordered? Many Guardsmen were ordered to do just that not so long ago.

What about the Coast Guard? Some people seem to feel that the Coast Guard is not a military organization, but look: they wear military uniforms, have military rank, hold military inspections, and are subject to military law, rules and regulations. In other words, the Coast Guard is a military organization. In the past several years the Coast Guard's biggest job has been making pot busts, but during the Vietnam war many of the Vietnamese rivers and deltas were regularly patrolled by Coast Guard cutters.

Leave the country?

People who leave the United States after having registered will continue to be processed. Again, it is unlikely that a person would he extradited to the US for failure to comply with an induction order or other SS order, but if he ever returned to the US he would most likely be arrested and prosecuted. The same applies to anyone who refuses to register while in the US and later leaves the country.

For the majority of draft-age men, leaving the country is no real solution. It is also not that easy. During the Vietnam war some foreign countries welcomed men who were evading the draft-two of the best known being Canada and Sweden. The catch is that those policies were political statements of disapproval of US involvement in Vietnam. When the Vietnam war ended, so did the Canadian and Swedish policies favoring US draft evaders. When draft registration resumed in 1980, both Sweden and Canada publicly announced that US draft evaders would receive no special treatment, but would be treated the same as all other foreigners seeking entry. It is no longer possible to receive official permission to live in those countries without going through regular channels, including an application submitted before entry.

In other words, while it is a cinch to cross the border into, say, Canada, if you overstay your visit you will be an illegal alien subject to deportation back to the US. If you are wanted on a draft charge, the odds are good that the FBI will be waiting to welcome you home. Even if you manage to evade detection by Canadian officials, your illegal status would make life difficult. You will not be eligible for an employment permit or for any human services such as unemployment benefits, public assistance, and perhaps medical attention.


If you decide not to register when required, there are some things that can better your odds of avoiding trial if caught, and also better your chances of avoiding prison if tried and convicted. The first question at hand, though, is what do you hope to accomplish by not registering? There are, of course, as many reasons for not registering as there are non-registrants. Since motives are sometime an important issue in court trials, no one should decide not to register without first deciding why he is refusing to register.

One point of view is that non-registration is a political statement: a man feels that the draft law is wrong, should not be allowed to exist, and therefore refuses to comply with it in any way. People who take this stand often make public announcements of their non-registration and use every opportunity they can find to publicly denounce the draft. Of course, if you make your position public it is almost certain that the SS will eventually catch up with you, but that doesn't automatically mean you will end up in jail. In the past, most non-registrants have been given at least one "warning," a notice that the SS had no record of their registration, and advising them to register immediately. If they decided at that time to register, they would usually just get put in with the other registrants. However, men who register late can still be prosecuted at some later time. Late registration may stall off immediate prosecution, but it does not erase the violation from your records.

On the other hand, if your conscience will not allow you to register, there is a possibility you will be taken to court, and perhaps sent to prison. I don't encourage people to go to prison. To the contrary, with so many options for avoiding the draft legally, I encourage people to comply with the law as far as their conscience will allow. However, one must respect those committed people who intelligently make the decision to take prison instead of the draft.

Another way to look at non-registration is to regard it as a more personal action. People who refuse to register for personal reasons may not be as concerned with political action as with their own situation or their own conscience, or they may feel that a political movement can be strong without being vocal. Those are perfectly respectable points of view.

Non-registration is not an easy way out

Someone once said that there are no easy answers to difficult questions, and that is true of the question of whether or not to register. On the one hand, not registering will insure that you won't be drafted, because only people who register can be ordered for induction. On the other hand, non-registration is illegal and could result in severe consequences including denial of benefits, denial of a job, or even denial of your freedom if you end up in prison.

Resistance is not a choice for people looking for an easy way out. It can be a difficult road to travel, and a man taking it may well have his life affected for years, perhaps forever. He stands a chance of ending up in prison for up to five years, 4 especially if he decides not to register even after being warned. War resisters don't come out of jail as heroes; they come out as convicted felons.

People convicted of draft law violations lose many of their civil rights in most states. It is a felony, meaning that in many states they lose their right to vote, and may not be allowed to practice law or medicine. Some states, such as California, do not penalize draft law violators so harshly, since they look to see if a man's felony conviction involved "moral turpitude." But most states, and many major employers, are prejudiced against all felons.

Federal pens are no picnic, either. You will come into contact with some really hardened people, perverts, addicts, sadists, fascists, murderers, and so on. And those are just the guards--some of the prisoners are pretty bad, too.

Non-registration is a serious decision; it is a poor choice for people who just aren't sure what they want to do about the draft. Deciding to resist is a very real commitment. It is a decision that should be thought over very carefully. It is probably the biggest and most difficult decision a draft-age man has ever had to make. You should be sure you know what you are getting into before committing yourself to it, and should talk it over with L someone you trust before making a final decision.

Going underground?

Many people feel very dedicated to non-registration, but don't feel that they want to make their resistance public. Getting out of the draft by not registering can work, but it can also get you a difficult future. It may mean the possibility of prosecution hanging over you for years to come. To avoid punishment, a person would have to avoid being detected for many years. Just how many years is not completely clear. The general statute of limitations says that federal felonies cannot be charged if more than five years have elapsed since the offense was committed. 5 However, in 1971 Congress added a provision to the Selective Service Act which says that nonregistrants can be charged until they reach age thirty-one. 6 The other catch is that the statute of limitations does not apply if you have been underground, outside the country, or otherwise unavailable for prosecution, 7 nor does it apply in cases where charges have been filed, even if the charges have never been served.

If you were to decide not to register, and also not to make your act a public statement, and assuming you wanted to avoid getting caught for as long as possible, then you may want to know how others in your situation have handled the problem. Once again, I want to make it clear that I do not advise anyone to break the law.

Some people, while not being overtly public, are still so proud of their non-registration that they let on (brag) to people they know that they haven't registered. This is fine if you want to take a public stand, but it is a damned poor way to keep a secret. Sooner or later the wrong person is going to hear about it and "patriotically" turn you in, or someone will have a grievance with you and "get even" by turning you in.

Other non-registrants seem to become paranoid. They turn pale if anyone mentions the draft. They run and hide if they see a policeman. They change jobs often and are constantly on the move, even though no one is actually after them. They are always looking over their shoulders, and don't trust people. They become loners. Their behavior is often so suspicious that people become suspicious of them, fulfilling their own fears, sometimes causing them to eventually get caught.

During the Vietnam era many SS violators were caught because they were arrested on some other charge. Even being stopped for running a stop sign or having a faulty automobile tail light could result in a police check on your name. If the computer bank shows that you are under investigation by the SS, you may end up with problems far more serious than a mere traffic citation.

Another possible catch for non-registrants comes from schools. Some high schools and colleges perform a "public service" by sending the SS and military recruiters a list of students. If you received a rash of recruiting literature at about the time you graduated from high school, there is a good chance that the system knows you exist. This means it will be easy for them to track you down. Consequently, you may find yourself moving around a lot, and developing all the paranoid tendencies described above. It's no fun!

The government has various other programs for tracking down nonregistrants. These programs involve comparing the names in the SS computer with the names in other government computers, such as Social Security, Internal Revenue, and state driver's license records. If your name is listed in any such data banks, the odds are overwhelming that the SS will track you down.

Another attack on nonregistrants was led by Congressman Gerald Solomon (R-NY) who got laws passed requiring draft-age men who apply for various programs and benefits to certify that they have registered. At this time there are three such laws covering student financial aid applicants, benefits under the Job Training Partnership Act, and federal employment. Legal challenges have resulted in the US Supreme Court upholding the student aid law, and the names of financial aid applicants are now turned over to the SS to check against its list of nonregistrants.

If caught

As mentioned above, most people caught in the past for non-registration have been given a choice: register or face trial. If a person decides to register at that point he won't automatically be drafted--he will be put in with the rest of the registrants and treated exactly the same as everyone else. Of course, someone may want to know why he didn't register on time. It may be that, as a matter of conscience, he didn't feel that he could be a part of the war machine, but has now decided that his registering won't necessarily mean being a part of it. If so, he may be qualified for a conscientious objector classification, and want to explain that in writing.

In any event, the system wants people to register. The SS is likely to accept just about any reason given for late registration. Some lawyers, including myself, contend that a person doesn't have to provide a statement explaining his late registration. By simply supplying the system with what it needs to register you, you are fulfilling your legal obligation. People who decide to give a reason should realize that even though they are being allowed to register late, they can still be prosecuted for late registration up to five years later. Any statement they make concerning their late registration could later be used as evidence against them.

A number of nonregistrants have registered as much as a year or two late, some after receiving warning letters from the SS or the US attorney, or because the FBI had come looking for them, or because it was the only way to receive financial aid for their educations. Others made the decision when they realized the chance of ever being prosecuted for late registration is small, and for various reasons they found that their chance for being drafted was also small.

Some men have misunderstood what it means to register. Registering for the draft does not mean that you will ever be called-that depends on the draft mechanism discussed in the next chapter, and most of all on whether the draft is being used. The fact is that no one has been drafted in this country for over fifteen years. That is, of course, no guarantee that the draft won't be fired up next week.

The non-registrants who were prosecuted during the eighties did not fare all that well in court. Fourteen were found guilty and seven received prison sentences ranging from 35 days to five years. Some men were granted probation or even had charges dropped in exchange for registering with the SS. The small number of cases do not make a meaningful statistic, but the trend is worth knowing about.

Resistance after registration

Registering does not mean that you absolutely will be drafted. It merely means that you may be drafted. You could get a high lottery number and not be called; you might qualify for one of several deferments or exemptions which will keep you from being drafted; or you may be able to avoid ever being called.

For many people who make the decision to register, their set of circumstances after registration brings with it the realization that they no longer care to cooperate with the system. Many of them decide to do what they can, legally or otherwise, to "jam" the system. The following discussion is not intended to encourage people to do illegal acts, but merely to report things which others have done in the past.

You have a legal duty to keep the SS informed of an address where mail will reach you. Some people deal with registration by making themselves difficult to locate by the SS. This is illegal and carries the same penalties as nonregistration, and may be more risky than not registering at all because the SS has you on their files and knows where you once lived. They may not track down and prosecute everyone who fails to report an address change, but the tactic carries other risks discussed in Chapters 5 and 17.)

You are not required to report a change of address every time you move, as long as the address they have is one where mail will reach you. Even if you are working or going to school hundreds of miles from the address the SS has, you are legal so long as someone at that address will receive mail for you and send it along, or let you know when it arrives. However, if the address given to the SS is no good, or becomes no good, a failure to give them a valid address is a violation of the law. Merely giving the Post Office a change of address form is not adequate as mall from the SS is not supposed to be forwarded by the Post Office.

Some people have used address changes to jam the system. One man I know gave his parents' address when he registered, and shortly after that time he moved into an apartment a few miles away. No matter which of those addresses the SS used, mail would reach him. He realized that every time he reported a change of address, someone would have to feed new data to the computer. He just couldn't decide which address to use, and ended up changing his address every few months. Soon a number of his friends became as indecisive as he was, and it became a full time job for the SS to keep track of all their different address changes. If you want to keep the system running smoothly you are going to have to try not to change addresses as often as those fellows did.

In addition to indecisive people, the world contains many people who have poor memories. Some can't remember names, others forget birthdays and anniversaries, while others can't seem to recall even the most important things . . . such as whether or not they remembered to register for the draft. These poor souls will drift through life in a fog. They will wake up in the morning and wonder aloud, "Gosh, did I register for the draft?"

There may be help for these unfortunates. A simple letter to the SS, asking whether or not they did register, will receive a response reassuring them that they did. Of course, it will take someone in the SS a little time to check the computer to see whether or not a man has registered--especially if he can't even recall his SS number. And it will take a little more time to write him a letter assuring him that all is well. But nothing is too good for our boys. And, golly, if the poor devil forgets again six months later, and again writes in to make absolutely sure that he really honestly did register for the draft, I guess the SS will just have to let him know again. And again. And again.



Requesting immediate discharge

The following procedures are suggested for anyone who decides to enter the military in order to try for { a discharge. The sooner after entering the military that discharge is requested, the better the chances of having the request granted. It may be that the person who requests discharge the same day he is inducted will not get proper attention, in the belief that a few weeks in the military will "straighten him out". However, that procedure is probably illegal, and action can be taken if it occurs. The person who waits several weeks or months before applying for discharge runs the risk of having the military feel that he has already shown that he can function in the military (unless he has been AWOL or in some other way proved his unacceptability, which is not recommended since it could result in a military prison sentence).

Many people have had a great degree of success in applying for discharge the same day they were inducted. In most cases these people have been discharged within two or three months, and in some cases more quickly. The first point for a man in this situation to consider is his reason for requesting discharge. Unfortunately, the military does not hand out discharges to anyone who requests one. You must have a legal reason for your request, such as conscientious objection, erroneous induction, or so on.

To qualify for discharge as a conscientious objector you must show that your objection "crystallized" or changed substantially since your induction. There is also a provision for draftees who can show that a conscientious objector claim filed with the SS was improperly processed. People who file a request for discharge as a conscientious objector which is basically the same claim as the one the SS denied will not get a discharge.

Anyone who files for discharge as a conscientious objector must be placed on duty which provides the "minimum practicable conflict" with his beliefs. This means that once you have filed, you cannot legally be ordered to handle or train with weapons, or in any way violate your CO beliefs. Generally, the inductee who files for a conscientious objector discharge immediately after entering the military will be held at the Reception Station at the basic training base while his discharge application is processed. The "minimum conflict" clause remains effective until the conscientious objector claim has been finally approved or disapproved by the Pentagon.

To qualify for an erroneous induction discharge you must be able to show that you should not have been inducted in the first place; for example, if you were wrongfully denied a deferment or exemption; or, if you should not have been found qualified under the medical fitness standards; and so on.

As an example of erroneous induction, let's use the situation discussed in the chapter on medical exemptions-a man not qualified because of chronic athlete's foot.

On induction day, Dexter Ryan showed up with a rampant case of athlete's foot and three doctors' letters: one from two years previously, one from two months previously, and one dated four days before his induction date. He tried his best to fail the physical examination, but for some reason was found acceptable, and decided to accept induction. He does not meet the physical fitness standards, should not have been inducted, and therefore qualifies for an erroneous induction discharge.

Sometimes it works well to apply for discharge for several different reasons. For instance, let's say that in addition to his athlete's foot, entry into the military has also made Dexter realize that he is a conscientious objector. He can apply for an erroneous induction discharge because of his athlete's foot and for a conscientious objector discharge, both at the same time.

As soon as possible after induction Dexter should start looking for someone to present his discharge requests to. By the time he finally gets them into the right hands, half of the people on base are going to know that he is a "trouble maker" and the sooner they get rid of him the better it will be for the military.

Further, since Dexter is requesting discharge as a conscientious objector, the military is likely to feel that he may start "infecting" other recruits with his ideas. In no time at all he might have every recruit on the base filing for a conscientious objector discharge, and because of the "minimum conflict" rule, that would mean they could not conduct basic training, since none of them could be ordered to train with weapons. Not only is Dexter a trouble maker, he is a potential subversive as well! Hopefully, the military is going to realize they have nothing to gain and much to lose by keeping Dexter around, and will find the quickest, easiest way possible to get rid of him. Usually that would mean granting the erroneous induction discharge, but no matter which discharge request is granted, it will give him a discharge.

Often, of course, things don't go quite so smoothly as we might wish. It may be that both of Dexter's discharge requests are turned down. If so, he should be in touch with a civilian lawyer who handles military cases. In a great many cases he or she will be able to get Dexter discharged by filing a "habeas corpus petition" in federal court. In fact, Dexter may be wise to retain his attorney before entering the military. His lawyer can help prepare the discharge requests, and also help during the processing as well. If Dexter is filing for an erroneous induction discharge, his lawyer can file a habeas corpus petition on the day he accepts induction. That way, he can go directly to court without having to be processed by the military, which could save weeks or months of time. If he doesn't want an attorney, or would rather wait to see if he needs one, he should certainly work closely with a counselor who is familiar with military law.

Refusing induction

This section is not intended to encourage anyone to refuse induction. Even in cases where a person may seem to have a legally sound reason for refusal, complications can arise which result in being convicted of a felony.

For thousands of people, the best answer to their draft problem seems to be to refuse induction into the military. This is especially true for people whose conscience will allow them to cooperate with the system to the point of attempting to gain some legal means of avoiding induction, but who feel that they cannot accept induction into the military under any circumstances. There are basically two ways to refuse induction: failing to report for induction when ordered, or reporting but refusing to submit to induction into the military.

Some people come to feel that to comply with the draft system in any way would be wrong, so they do not show up on their induction date. Usually the SS will give you another chance by sending a second reporting date. If that date is ignored as well, the FBI will likely be coming around looking for you, if they didn't come looking the first time. Unless they have an arrest warrant, you do not have to let them into your home or answer any of their questions. Perhaps the best thing to tell the FBI agents is that you will have your lawyer contact them, and that you have nothing further to say at that time. Do not get tricked into talking to them as they are just trying to make a case against you.

There are problems with a "no show" refusal of induction, especially since the man who is given another reporting date and still does not report may stand a higher chance of conviction than the man who reports but refuses induction.

Perhaps the cleanest way to refuse induction is to show up at the proper time and place, go through the pre-induction processing, but refuse to be inducted into the military. This way, you might be found unacceptable during the pre-induction physical examination and be given a 4-F exemption.

When ordered to report for induction you will be given a complete pre-induction physical examination on the day you report to the MEPS. Many people-roughly fifty percent of those who report-are found unacceptable at this point and given either a temporary or permanent : medical disqualification.

If you are planning to avoid induction for medical, psychological or moral reasons, induction day will be your one big chance to be disqualified. You may want to let the examining doctors know that you plan to refuse induction if found qualified, and why. You also may want to ask the doctors for their names, in case you decide to sue them for medical malpractice should they find you acceptable.

Much of the induction process involves filling out / papers and standing in lines. The important moment comes when you are taken to a large room for the actual induction ceremony. Everyone will be lined up and told to-*'\ step forward when their name is called. Don't take that step if you plan to refuse induction!

It is the act of stepping forward that constitutes induction. Contrary to popular belief, taking the oath of induction occurs after induction, and refusing to take the oath is punishable under military law, since you are already in the military by that time.

If you plan to refuse induction, you should not step forward when your name is called. Just to make sure that there is no question about it, you should also say out L loud that you refuse induction. There is no danger of anyone pushing you forward or anything like that; it is just that you want to make sure the officials understand what you are doing. Sometimes people in the Army aren't too bright.

If you refuse to take the step forward, an Army officer will probably take you quickly into a private room. After all, they don't want you infecting others with your weird ideas. You will likely be told the penalty for refusing induction is five years in jail and a two hundred fifty thousand dollar fine, that it is a federal felony offense, and that you will be sent to prison if you refuse induction. The Army will do everything in their power to scare you. Then, they will probably offer you another chance to step forward. I am sure we can all appreciate their thoughtfulness.

If you resist their efforts to get you to step forward, they will probably ask you to make or sign a statement that you have willfully refused induction. I strongly recommend that you refuse to make such a statement. If you do give such a statement, it is an admission or confession which can be used against you in a court of law. It is never a good idea to admit that you are guilty of any crime, at least not until you have consulted a lawyer.

After refusing induction you may be arrested. People are usually just told to go home, and that they will be contacted later, but every once in a while a person is actually taken from the induction center to the police station for booking. If you are arrested on the spot, you will probably be let go on your own recognizance after booking, unless the police have reason to think you may not show up, or unless they are in a bad mood. Being released without bail means they think they can trust you to show up for trial. However, just in case the police do decide to hold you, you should arrange for bail ahead of time. It would be a good idea for you to write the phone number of your lawyer, friend or bail bondsman on your arm with a ballpoint pen before induction. That way, even if the police take away your clothing and your wallet (a common booking procedure) you will still have the phone number handy.

What happens after refusal

After induction processing has been completed, all files are returned to the SS. The files of those who have refused induction will be forwarded to the United States Attorney's office, where a decision will be made whether or not the government wants to prosecute. The US Attorney will usually not bring charges unless he feels he can win the case. Even though the US Attorney screens cases pretty thoroughly, it is interesting to note that in the past not all people were convicted, and not all convictions resulted in prison sentences. Of those who were taken to court, well over half were found not guilty. For example, in the fiscal year ended June 30, 1971, there were 2,973 Selective Service cases that got to court. While that was a higher number than in any year since 1945, only 34.8% were convicted, and of those convicted only 36% were sent to prison. So, only about 13% of 1t2 he court cases resulted in a person being sent to prison.

... There is another thing that you should consider if you are thinking of refusing induction. You can be taken to court on more than one charge. The US Attorney's policy during the later Vietnam era seemed to be moving toward a position of trying to convict people, regardless of the charge, if they refused induction. In other words, even if the government couldn't make the charge of "refusing induction" stick, they were just as happy to nab people on some other charge, such as late registration or failure to report an address change. There have even been cases of people being acquitted of refusing induction, and then being taken back into court on some other charge and convicted.

If the government decides not to prosecute, you may get a letter from either the US Attorney or your local board, instructing you to report at once to your local board office. Upon reporting you may be informed of the decision not to prosecute, or you may be told that a previously denied classification will be reconsidered by the board.

Another possibility is that you may simply be sent a new classification from your local board. Usually, if you are reclassified by the local board after refusing induction, you are well on the way to the classification you want. In many cases the board will simply send it to you, but sometimes you will be sent a new 1-A classification and will have to start your appeal process all over again. In rare cases even the second appeal may be shot down, and you may once again end up with an induction order. One person I know got seven induction orders before his local board finally gave in and granted him a 1-0 classification.

If the US Attorney decides to prosecute, there may be a warrant issued for your arrest. You or your lawyer can check this out by calling the US Marshall's office and asking if there is a warrant out in your name. In some cities the Marshall is very civil about the entire affair. An officer will call on the phone to ask if you would like to come down and surrender. If you agree, they will usually book you and then release you on your own recognizance. But just in case the Marshall in your area isn't so considerate, you or your lawyer should check from time to time to see if a warrant has been issued. If so, you might call them and offer to surrender.

If you don't surrender, or are not given the opportunity to do so, the Marshals will come looking for you. There is nothing more inconvenient than being rousted out of bed at three in the morning just to be arrested . . . or being arrested on a Friday night and not being able to raise bail or see a magistrate until Monday morning. It's much more tolerable to deal with the police at a civilized time of day, and on your own terms.

Another way to avoid unnecessary hassle over being arrested might be for you or your lawyer to send a letter (certified, return receipt, of course) to the Marshall's office explaining that you are willing to surrender to any warrant if the Marshall will just be good enough to give a call or send a letter and let you know when and where to surrender.



Bear in mind that under current regulations all draft registrants will be presumed to be classified 1-A unless they submit a claim for deferment or exemption. Also bear in mind that once you are ordered for induction, your claim must be submitted before the date you are supposed to report to MEPS. If you do not make the claim within that very short period, you will have given up your right to make the claim at all.

Deferments and exemptions

Listed below are the twenty-one classifications that Selective Service uses, along with a short explanation of what each classification means and reference to the parts of this book where it is discussed more fully. The list is in order of priority as established by the SS; that is, 1-A is the highest priority, the first to go, and 1-H is the lowest and last. Remember, if you qualify for more than one classification on this list you must be given the one which is lowest on the list.

Fully eligible for induction into military service. All draft registrants will be presumed 1-A. Those in the Age Twenty Selection Group with low lottery numbers will be ordered for induction first and then allowed a short time in which to claim some other classification.


Conscientious objector willing to go into military service as a non-combatant, but not as a combatant.

Conscientious objector opposed to any kind of military service, but willing to do civilian work contributing to the national health, safety or interest.

Conscientious objector opposed to all military service who received recognition of objector status while serving in military and separated from military for that reason.

Student of theology satisfactorily pursuing studies preparing him for the ministry.

Registrant with one or more dependents whose dependents would suffer hardship economically, physically or emotionally if he were drafted.

Persons separated from military service because of hardship to dependents. After six months, this classification must be reviewed by SS under the usual 3-A standards.

Full time or regularly practicing minister of religion.

ROTC students, men who have accepted a reserve officer standby commission, aviation cadet applicants, and men who have enlisted in a military reserve component.

Judges and some federal and state elected officials.

Non-US citizens and dual nationals who are exempt from the draft, currently outside the US, or have been in the US less than one year.

Person whose father, brother or sister died as a result of injury or disease incurred while in the military.

People who have already served.

Non-US citizens and dual citizens of some countries who have completed at least 12 months military service in their own country.

Conscientious objector (1-0) who has completed civilian alternate service work.

Students enrolled in an officer procurement program at an approved military college; men in the Delayed Entry Program of military enlistments; certain military reservists.

Active duty military members, commissioned officers of the Public Health Service or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Conscientious objector (1-0) currently performing civilian alternate service.

Non-US citizens exempt from the draft under a treaty between the US and the citizen's country.

Person MEPS finds not qualified for military service or conscientious objector service because of medical, mental or administrative reasons.

Administrative "holding" classification for people whose age group is not being currently called, or whose lottery number is above the announced ceiling.


Many people believe that conscientious objector status stems from the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion. Unfortunately, that belief is incorrect; the US Supreme Court ruled long ago that there is no such constitutional right. 1 It exists only because the draft law, passed by Congress, allows it to exist. It is very doubtful that Congress would decide to discontinue conscientious objector status, but it is scary to know that it could happen.

Conscientious objections in other countries

Presently there are only four countries in the world that constitutionally guarantee conscientious objection to military service: West Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland. Costa Rica endorses it, but it is not a constitutional right. Provisions for COs do exist in many other countries by way of statutes or administrative

What is conscientious objection?

To qualify for classification as a conscientious objector a person must show that his deeply and sincerely held religious, moral or ethical beliefs cause him to feel opposed to taking part in war in any form.

Who qualifies as a CO?

A conscientious objector is someone whose conscience would give him no peace if he took part in warfare. In the past only "religious objectors" were recognized. If a man wasn't a member of a recognized "peace church," such as the Quakers or Mennonites, he was pretty much out of luck. But two important Supreme Court decisions have expanded the meaning of the word "religious" to include any strongly held moral or ethical belief. In other words, you no longer have to belong to a church or believe in a God to be classified as a conscientious objector, as long as you feel very strongly that participation in war is wrong. The Supreme Court definition of a conscientious objector is someone whose deeply and sincerely held religious, moral or ethical beliefs cause him to be opposed to taking part in all war in any form.

The questions

Despite the changes to the SS form over the years, There are four basic areas that will almost certainly be explored in any CO application. Even if the form does not specifically ask for the following information you should be prepared to provide it, because all four areas are essential parts of a CO claim.

A. What are your beliefs?

This kind of question asks you to describe the religious, moral, or ethical beliefs that underlie your objection to taking part in war. Do you believe in a God? If so, what are the teachings of your God? Do you belong to a religious organization? If so, what are its teachings? If you do not believe in a God, what code of ethics or morals do you use to guide your life?

In approaching this area of questions, many people fall into the trap of discussing only their beliefs about war. Naturally, you are going to want to discuss that, but try not to confine yourself to only that issue. Include a discussion of all your beliefs. For instance, a member of a traditional Christian religion could not only point to his church's official statement in support of conscientious objection, but could also discuss his belief in the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and so on. Those things may not have anything to do with conscientious objection to war, but they help to make the important point that the person has a broad base of beliefs which guide his life in any ways, including the issue of war.

B. Which kind of C.O. are you?

It is up to you to inform the SS whether your beliefs cause you to object only to combatant military service (Class 1-A-O) or to all military service no matter what the job (Class 1-0). If your claim is for noncombatant status you may want to explain why your beliefs cause you to oppose participation in all war, but still allow you to enter the military as a noncombatant. This can be a ticklish area, because an objection to personally being harmed is not a legal basis for CO status. In other words, if you object to combat because you might get shot, it won't work; but if you object to combat because shooting someone would violate your conscience, that will qualify.

For the 1-0 objector this area gets equally difficult. This is where you must show that any participation in the military--whether directly combatant or noncombatant-would violate your beliefs. This can involve some very fine points. For instance, if you really are opposed to supporting the machinery of war, why do you pay income taxes when over half the national budget pays for military personnel and weapons? What is wrong with being a cook or a supply sergeant?

C. Where did your beliefs come from?

This is largely a historical area, wanting to know what life experiences have led you to believe as you do.

Have you received formal religious training? Even if you do not belong to a religious organization, do you believe in some or all of the teachings of a particular religion?

Have your beliefs been influenced by books you have read, classes you have taken in school, or people you have known? Bear in mind that this area asks not only for the development of your beliefs about war, but all of your religious, moral, or ethical beliefs which you discussed in the first area.

An important consideration in this area is: when did your beliefs cause you to become opposed to participating in war? Have you felt that way for as long as you can remember, or did you never really think about it until recently? Local boards are not supposed to deny a claim only because someone's conscientious objection is a recent development. 14 By the same token, the guy who can point to a long history of beliefs may be more believable than someone whose objection is newly formed. The more background you can show, the stronger your claim will be.

D. What shows that you are sincere'

This is probably the most difficult area to answer, but it may also be the most important. The most common reason for denying CO claims during the Vietnam era was that the board did not believe the applicant to be sincere. You should be prepared to demonstrate that you live by the beliefs you have described.

Some people state that their application for CO status shows that their beliefs are deeply held. Not only is this logic questionable, but the frequency with which that statement pops up causes boards to be bored with it.

In approaching this area, try to describe events in your life that show that you live consistently with your beliefs. For instance, if you believe in the Ten Commandments, you could demonstrate incidents in your life showing that you do not take the Lord's name in vain, that you honor your parent's, that you do not covet your neighbor's property . . . . and, of course, that you do not kill. If you belong to a church, you can show that you attend worship ceremonies and abide by the teachings of that church.

There are two common stories that may illustrate the kinds of incidents that can be used in this area of questioning. First, the hunting story. Sometimes a budding CO first realizes what it means to kill when he goes hunting. Some people "freeze up" and find themselves unable to pull the trigger. Others are able to shoot, but then feel guilt or remorse for what they have done. In either case, those people realize that they can not kill even birds or animals, let alone another human being.

The other is the "stealing story." Some people have stolen something, often something petty like a candy bar when they were kids, and then felt their conscience telling them that what they have done is wrong. Others are given an opportunity to be dishonest but find that they can not do it. Those experiences show that a person's beliefs about honesty are deeply and sincerely held, and that is the name of the game.

Naturally, there are lots of other stories that can fit under this heading: stories of schoolyard fights, helping little old ladies across the street, stopping to help motorists with automobile trouble, and so on. Anything that tends to show you take your beliefs seriously can be used.

One further word of caution about filling out CO forms: the SS has usually designed the form to encourage brief, one-paragraph answers, or even just check-box answers. Don't fall for it! Your claim is probably not complete enough unless you have written at least one or two pages in response to each of the questions discussed above. Many COs have found that even that is not enough space for what they need to say. Naturally, quality is far more important than quantity, and it is possible for an application to be too long. Boards are unlikely to carefully read a forty page application. The important thing is not to feel compelled to fit your answers into a ["small one-paragraph format.

When to file

The current regulations seem designed to make it] very difficult for you to file a CO claim. You can not file until after you have been sent an order to report for induction. You must then file your application before the date set for you to report to MEPS which could be as little as ten days from the date the order was sent. If you do not file within that very brief period, you may have given up all chance of filing at all.

You will not be required to file a complete CO claim in that brief period, but you will have to file something in writing requesting to be considered for conscientious objector status. In response, a form may be sent to you that same day, and you may be given as little as ten days in which to return your complete written application)-8 In other words, you will probably have less than nineteen days between the time you are sent an induction order and the time you must submit your complete claim. The earlier you start working on your claim, the better your chances for meeting that deadline with a successful application.

Even though the Registration Form does not have a box to check for conscientious objection, you may still wish to register as a CO, or to inform the SS of your beliefs after you have registered but before you are ordered for induction. When you go to the post office to register, you could take a broad-tipped felt pen with you. Find some available space on the registration form and simply write in the words, "1 am a conscientious objector." You can do this if you are a CO, or if you think you might become one, or even if you are unsure if you are one or not. By doing this, you have at least begun to set up some documentation for a CO claim.

Some COs have used the postage-paid Change of Information Form available in post offices to inform the SS that they are COs. Still others have written letters to the SS explaining their beliefs, or have submitted complete written applications. While none of these things are provided for in the regulations, proof that you have done one or more of them could help bolster the "sincerity" and "depth of conviction" parts of your claim if and when you do receive an induction order.

Some objectors find that there is no relief in sight, and when ordered for induction they decide to refuse to enter the military rather than to violate their conscience. Statistics, for what they are worth, show that objectors who refuse induction after trying every other way to get a valid CO claim granted stand about one chance in one thousand of ending up in jail for refusing induction. Of course those statistics don't mean a thing if you are that one guy in a thousand.

The government simply cannot win a court case where a person files a valid CO claim, is determined enough to use up all of his appeal rights attempting to get the claim granted, and then follows through by refusing induction. If anything, his refusal is further proof of his sincere conscientious objection to going into the military. In many such cases the US Attorney (the prosecutor) will review the case, decline prosecution, and send the file back to the local board with a recommendation that they "reconsider" it in light of the new evidence of sincerity--the fact that the man refused induction and risked prosecution rather than violate his beliefs.

During past drafts, very few people who refused induction because of a denied CO claim were sent to jail. However, there is always the danger of being charged with violations other than refusing induction. For instance, a person could be in a situation where he could be charged with refusing induction and failure to keep the SS informed of a current address, or perhaps late registration. Being charged with two or more counts was used frequently during the Vietnam draft. A conviction on any count carries the same five year/$250,000 maximum penalty. People considering refusing induction would be well advised to keep their records clean of all other potential charges, and to have an experienced draft lawyer look over their files prior to the refusal.

The possibility of a prison term, however slim a possibility, along with the fear of being convicted of a felony, seems to scare a lot of people into accepting induction against their judgment. There is an alternative.

An objector who decides not to risk a prison sentence by refusing induction can still have the courts review the SS action on his CO claim by accepting induction and having his lawyer file what is known as a Habeas Corpus Petition in federal court. Under that system, the court will review the induction order to see if it was legal, including a review of whether the CO claim was legally turned down. The review generally takes only a week or two, and if the judge agrees that you should not have been drafted, he or she will order the military to immediately release you. The problem, of course, is that if the judge feels that the CO claim was properly denied, you are stuck in the military. On the other hand, if you refuse induction you are taking a chance on being convicted and possibly going to jail-particularly if there are other charges that could be brought against you in addition to the charge of refusing induction. Neither alternative is terribly appealing, but at least there are alternatives to choose from. And, for the person who decides to accept induction arid whose Habeas Corpus Petition is denied in a court under civil law, there is still the possibility that a counselor or lawyer experienced in military law may be able to assist in obtaining a discharge in a military proceeding.

Sentencing practices

On the brighter side, all men who violate the draft law have been prosecuted, not all men who have been prosecuted have been convicted, and not all men who have been convicted have been sentenced to prison.

During the Vietnam draft, and particularly in the later years of that draft, only a small percentage of the people who refused induction were actually prosecuted. This was no doubt in direct relation to the upsurge in the number of men filing for deferments, exemptions, and conscientious objector status. By filing such claims men made use of their procedural rights under the draft law, and in doing so allowed local boards and appeal boards to make countless procedural errors and to provide innumerable faulty reasons for denial of claims. The system was so inept at processing men for induction that literally hundreds of thousands of men who refused induction had their files returned to the local boards for further processing.

However, even though perhaps nine cases out of ten were not prosecuted, this does not mean that only one in ten could have been prosecuted. In many instances a man who had refused induction would find that he had virtually no defense to the charges. Rather than face an almost certain conviction and the possibility of a prison sentence, many thousands of men agreed to accept induction if re-ordered, or to enlist in order to avoid prosecution. Thus, while nine men out of ten were not prosecuted, far fewer actually succeeded in avoiding the draft and in avoiding prosecution. In reviewing the following statistics, bear in mind that not all men who had charges dropped or dismissed went free. Many of them had charges dismissed only upon a showing that they had enlisted or volunteered for induction.

During 1971 there were 2,973 men charged with violating the Selective Service Act. Of those men, 57% (1,701) had charges dismissed, 7% (217) were acquitted by a court trial, and another .6% (19) were acquitted by a jury. Roughly 35% of the men charged (1,036) were found guilty, either because they entered pleas of guilty or "no contest" (590) or because their defense failed and they were found guilty by a judge (350) or a jury (96).

Of the 1,036 men found guilty, only 377 were sentenced to prison: 79 received sentences of one year or less, 140 were given sentences of one to three years, 129 received sentences between three and five years, and 29 were sentenced to prison for five years or more. However, 63% of the men convicted (650) were given probation sentences and only nine had fines imposed. The average prison term that year was 29 months.

Not surprisingly, sentencing practices have varied from court to court. In Maryland, for instance, 31 men were charged with draft law violations during fiscal year 1971, and 14 (45%) were convicted. By contrast, in the San Diego, California district court 63 men were charged with draft law violations and only 16 (25%) were found guilty. Average prison terms likewise varied from a low of 19.6 months in Oregon to a high of 41.1 months in the courts serving Maryland, the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia. 13

The legal problems of draft law violators do not end with the courts or the prisons. While practices vary from state to state, most discriminate against convicted draft law violators, since they are felons. In some states, such as California, draft law violators do not lose their rights to vote, to practice law or medicine, or other rights. In other states, they lose it all.

In addition to the legal disabilities of a draft law conviction, it is also possible that a federal felony conviction on a man's record could cause employment problems. While some employers will look beyond the fact of conviction to see what charge a man was convicted of, many will treat all felons the same regardless of whether their crime was murder or refusing to murder.

In the past, draft law violators who were no longer of draft age have almost always been able to receive a Presidential pardon. Such a pardon usually will remove most or all of the restrictions on a man's rights resulting from a draft law conviction. But here again, practices vary from state to state, and from one employer to the next. Presidential pardons may be requested by filling out special forms addressed to the United States Pardon Attorney.

For many men the possibility of conviction will persuade them to do whatever they are ordered to do. For others, following their conscience is more important than following the law. No one should refuse induction thinking he can "get away with it," that he will "get off light," or that it is an "easy way out." But then again, a violation of the law, even with its penalties, may be easier to live with in later years than a violation of your principles.

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