The Law Dictionary

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Reasons For A Dishonorable Discharge

When a member of one of the branches of the U.S. armed forces commits an action that is considered a major violation of the code of proper conduct, they may be brought before a general court-martial. If found guilty of the offense, the military personnel may receive a dishonorable discharge. This expulsion from military service can have serious and far-reaching consequences.

Possible Crimes that May Lead to Dishonorable Discharge

Military personnel who receive a dishonorable discharge frequently commit the most serious crimes according to military protocol. A serviceperson who is Absent Without Leave, or AWOL, may be dishonorably discharged. To be considered AWOL, the individual must leave their post intentionally or fail to return to their post. Sedition is another crime that may be punishable with dishonorable discharge. In a case involving sedition, the guilty personnel may have tried to get others to disregard orders or may have even been involved in a plot to overthrow the government.

Someone found guilty of a sexual assault may also be dishonorably discharged. Sexual assault can take a number of forms up to and including rape. In general, any time that sexual contact is forced on another individual, sexual assault has occurred. Similarly, charges of manslaughter or murder may also lead to a dishonorable discharge. Manslaughter charges may be brought upon an individual whose action or inaction unintentionally resulted in the death of another. When another’s life is intentionally ended, murder is the typical charge, and the guilty subject may receive a dishonorable discharge.

Consequences of a Dishonorable Discharge

When a major crime has been committed, the dishonorable discharge is rarely the end of the legal proceedings. Individuals who are dishonorably discharged may still be facing criminal charges in regular or military courts. They may be sentenced to jail time or to pay fines. However, a record that includes a dishonorable discharge can follow the individual through the rest of their life.

People who have been dishonorably discharged may be shunned by military personnel, and they typically lose their entitlement to any military benefits for which they would otherwise have been eligible. Moreover, they may find it difficult to obtain employment and they will be ineligible for unemployment benefits. Some will be barred from owning a gun, holding public office and voting. Successfully appealing the dishonorable discharge may restore some of these benefits and entitlements, but the process is difficult and frequently futile.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.