Dishonourable discharge is a term used to describe an expulsion from the ranks of the military as the result of a general court-martial procedure. The nature of this military discharge means that it is typically warranted only in the case of the "worst" violations of proper conduct, as understood by military protocol, and thus causes the discharged serviceman or woman to lose military benefits and face ostracism by former colleagues and often by society as a whole. A dishonourable discharge is not pronounced lightly but can be ordered for a number of offences.
The general court-martial is one of three varieties of courts-martial and the only one capable of handing down a dishonourable discharge. While summary and special courts-martial have a number of restrictions upon what penalties they have the authority to impose, depending on the offence in question, the general court-martial is allowed to dispense any punishment permissible in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). While the special court-martial is often considered to be the "misdemeanour court," due to the relatively minor nature of the offences dealt with there, the general court-martial is considered to be the military's "felony court," based upon the severity of the offences brought before it. It is only these most severe, "felony-level" offences, therefore, which warrant a dishonourable discharge.
Any killing which would be subject to the penalties of murder in a civil proceeding would also be a crime resulting in a dishonourable discharge in a military court, in addition to a maximum penalty of life in prison or death.
Any serviceman found guilty of rape of a woman "not his wife" can be given a dishonourable discharge with a maximum penalty also of death. Dishonourable discharges can also be granted for a military version of statutory rape, which uses under 16 years as its age threshold.
Other Civil Crimes
Dishonourable discharges can also be issued for a variety of other crimes also found in civil penal code. Depending on degree and circumstance, these crimes can include theft, drug-related crimes, forgery, perjury and maiming, among others.
Although dishonourable discharges are often issued in military court-martial procedures for crimes with specific civil counterparts, there are a few crimes which warrant this punishment that are specific to the military. Most notably among these are the crimes of desertion and sedition. Desertion is typically defined as an extended absence from one's military post with the intent to abandon military service indefinitely. Sedition (also referred to as mutiny) is typically defined as attempting to incite a rebellion or overthrow military or civil authority.