Dishonorable 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 dishonorable discharge is not pronounced lightly but can be ordered for a number of offenses.
The general court-martial is one of three varieties of courts-martial and the only one capable of handing down a dishonorable discharge. While summary and special courts-martial have a number of restrictions upon what penalties they have the authority to impose, depending on the offense 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 "misdemeanor court," due to the relatively minor nature of the offenses dealt with there, the general court-martial is considered to be the military's "felony court," based upon the severity of the offenses brought before it. It is only these most severe, "felony-level" offenses, therefore, which warrant a dishonorable discharge.
Any killing which would be subject to the penalties of murder in a civil proceeding would also be a crime resulting in a dishonorable 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 dishonorable discharge with a maximum penalty also of death. Dishonorable discharges can also be granted for a military version of statutory rape, which uses under 16 years as its age threshold.
Other Civil Crimes
Dishonorable 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 dishonorable 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.