Whether it was a candy bar in elementary school or a car in college, theft issues are one of the more common questions security clearance applicants ask about. Like every other issue, a single instance of violating the law – even one that landed you in jail – is not automatic grounds for security clearance denial.
It’s important to disclose any issues of a criminal nature, as required by your security clearance application. Passage of time is an important factor in how an issue is weighed. Keep in mind some questions on the SF-86 ask if you have ‘ever’ – and others ask about a specific timeframe. That means you likely don’t need to list that candy bar incident, but a drug-related charge from college will need to be disclosed.
Many instances of theft are issues that may have been settled out of court, or resulted in an arrest and then pleading to lesser charges. It doesn’t matter if you were charged, or if charges were later dropped or expunged. If you were arrested for something, and it falls within the reporting timeframe on your security clearance application, it needs to be listed. Theft, like other issues, can be easily mitigated by showing how it was a one-time lapse in judgment or a part of your past you’ve left behind. But if you appear to be hiding the issue or failing to disclose it, you will have grounds for clearance denial based on personal conduct – nothing related to the theft itself, but directly related to your attempt to hide it.