The U.S. military can impose a dishonorable discharge for the violation of serious laws including murder, manslaughter and sexual assault.
A court martial must find a soldier guilty of a serious military or civil crime to impose a dishonorable discharge. These crimes include sexual assault charges, murder, manslaughter, sedition and being absent without leave. It is of the utmost importance for any member of the military to know what can cause this type of discharge as it often will have severe repercussions in post-military life.
Sexual Assault Discharge
A dishonorable discharge due to sexual assault can occur as a result to a variety of sexual crimes. Sexual assault is the general term. Rape is the most commonly known aspect of sexual assault, but several others can all lead to a dishonorable discharge. Sexual assault is any sexual contact or behavior that is forced upon an individual who does not or cannot consent. It can occur between adults or between adults and children. Gender and marital status are irrelevant – men can assault men or women and women can do the same. An individual can be sexually assaulted by her spouse.
Murder and Manslaughter Discharge
Murder refers to the premeditated, intentional act of taking someone's life. Manslaughter, alternatively, is the action or inaction that results in someone's death but was unintentional. Murder and manslaughter can both lead to a dishonorable discharge. While engaging in combat, deaths are not considered murder or manslaughter, but rather a casualty of war. However, the taking of a life, be it soldier or civilian, while not engaged in active combat can be determined to be murder or manslaughter and a dishonorable discharge may be the result.
Absent Without Leave Discharge
Absent without leave or AWOL refers to a soldier's departure from their assigned post or base with the intention not to return to service. AWOL is sometimes generalized as being an act of cowardice, although there are other reasons for a soldier to go AWOL and is usually used interchangeably with desertion. Desertion, in particular, is one of the strongest cases for a dishonorable discharge.
Sedition, also commonly referred to as mutiny, refers to the intention of someone to overthrow the government or to incite others to do the same. Certain illegal actions such as espionage will be considered an act of sedition or mutiny. Mutiny can be on a smaller scale, such as inciting a unit to disregard orders, or as large as to attempt to overthrow the government as a whole.
Other Illegal Actions
The majority of other illegal actions, such as drug abuse or domestic violence, will likely not lead to a dishonorable discharge. They may however cause a soldier to be discharged as a bad conduct discharge or an other than honorable discharge.