Since this promises to be a newsworthy topic for the next few days, I think it's worthwhile to pull together some of the written material that speaks to LDS policy on who can be excommunicated, who conducts the proceeding, what rules or policies control the proceeding, and how much discretion there is in taking disciplinary action based on the findings or feelings of the LDS officials conducting the trial. Having never been directly involved with an LDS disciplinary action myself, my sources of information reflect only LDS written material and statements by those who have participated in LDS disciplinary councils (often referred to within the Church as "courts of love" and previously described by the more convenient term "church courts").
True to the Faith is a doctrinal booklet published by the Church. It is short and rather general in its explanations, but has the virtue of being "official." Under the entry Church Disciplinary Councils, it reads: "The most serious transgressions, such as serious violations of civil law, spouse abuse, child abuse, adultery, fornication, rape, and incest, often require formal Church discipline. Formal Church discipline may include restriction of Church membership privileges or loss of Church membership." The short article also gives three purposes for church courts: "The purposes of disciplinary councils are to save the souls of transgressors, protect the innocent, and safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church." Thus, the claim that the welfare of the individual who is charged is always the primary concern of the proceeding is too strong a statement: if protecting the innocent or safeguarding the good name of the Church is at issue, the welfare of the accused may (and possibly should) play a secondary role.
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism has a much longer entry entitled Disciplinary Procedures. The article is authored by Bruce C. Hafen, former dean of the BYU Law School, now a GA. The article notes that bishops generally conduct church courts, and that they (or other officers conducting the proceeding) have wide discretion in how they respond to instances of transgression. The article gives three general purposes for church courts, quite similar to the earlier list: (1) to aid the transgressor's repentance; (2) to "identify unrepentant predators and hostile apostates and thereby protect innocent persons from harm they might inflict"; and (3) "to safeguard the integrity of the Church."
The article notes that "guidelines for conducting disciplinary proceedings are provided to Church officers in the general handbook of instructions" (not generally available to rank-and-file members). However, the article summarizes basic procedural rights of an accused LDS member as notice, a hearing, a record of the proceedings, and a right of appeal (sound familiar?). It is not clear whether an accused member has a right to representation, the right to a clear statement before the trial of what the alleged infraction is, or the right to a written statement of the basis of the decision, but the article does claim that "the Church observes basic standards of fairness." In what is a relatively new policy, "members who request to have their names removed from Church membership records for reasons of personal choice unrelated to serious misconduct need not appear before a disciplinary council to have their request honored." [Note: Elsewhere, LDS leaders are advised to conduct a disciplinary council when a member requests name removal if there is reason to suspect "serious transgression," which appears to include apostasy. Since simply asking for name removal is likely to be taken by some bishops as evidence of apostasy, it's not clear whether the simplified name removal prodedures are actually honored in practice by all local leaders.]
The Church Handbook of Instructions provides the official direction to the LDS officer conducting a formal disciplinary council. It lists the same three purposes for holding courts, expanding on "protecting the innocent" to include "a physical or spiritual threat," including apostasy. The Handbook notes that bishops conduct most trials, but that if a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is the subject of the trial, the stake president (plus counselors, plus high counselors) conducts it. Rather surprisingly, "information received in a member's confession cannot be used as evidence in a disciplinary council without the member's consent," although bishops are directed to try real hard to get such permission.
Disciplinary councils must be held for the following: murder, incest, child abuse, and apostasy (defined as referring to members who "repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders"). However, "total inactivity in the Church or attending or holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy." Now that is an interesting statement. Assuming one is not simply feigning membership in another denomination but sincerely accepts some or all of the its tenets and beliefs, this appears to be saying that merely holding doctrinal or historical beliefs different from Mormon beliefs does not constitute apostasy. Let me say that again in bold font and in simpler terms: Merely rejecting LDS doctrinal and historical beliefs does not constitute apostasy.
As to procedures, the Handbook notes that accused individuals may (with cause) object to the participation of a counselor, a bishop, or even the stake president. Notice of the trial is to be given, but neither details of the charge nor evidence on which the charge is based are to be disclosed in the notice. Evidence and witnesses may be presented at the trial, and the member has the right to cross examine opposing witnesses. After the member is excused and the presiding officer and his counselors come to a decision, the member is informed of the result and its consequences, as well as being informed of his or her right to appeal the decision. Announcement of the results of a formal disciplinary proceeding is limited to those who have a need to know.
I suppose everyone has at least one story on this topic. I'm not really after stories, but if you must — no names; no rants; no true confessions. Uh, no false confessions either. [Note: Comment queue in effect: your comment may take half a day to post.]