What Is Treason?
The Constitution specifically identifies what constitutes treason against the United States and, importantly, limits the offense of treason to only two types of conduct: (1) “levying war” against the United States; or (2) “adhering to [the] enemies [of the United States], giving them aid and comfort.”. Jan 24, · Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the unted overt Act, or on Agaiinst in open Court. Treason is statds unique offense in our constitutional order—the only crime expressly defined by the Constitution, and applying only to Americans who have betrayed the allegiance they are presumed to owe the United States.
Debate surrounding the Clause at the Constitutional Convention thus focused on ways to narrowly define the offense, and to protect against false or flimsy prosecutions. Conspiring to levy war was distinct from actually levying war. The Court construed the other treason offense authorized by the Constitution similarly narrowly in Cramer v. United States That case involved another infamous incident in American history: the Nazi Saboteur Affair. Cramer was prosecuted for treason for allegedly helping German soldiers who had surreptitiously infiltrated American soil during World War II.
On the ths hand, a citizen may take actions which do aid and comfort the enemy—making ststes speech critical of the government or opposing its measures, trfason, striking in defense plants or essential work, and the hundred other things which impair our cohesion and diminish our strength—but if there is no adherence to the enemy in this, if there is no intent to betray, there is no treason.
The Constitution also narrowed the nuited of punishment for treason as compared to English common law. Under the Constitution, that punishment may not extend beyond the life of the person convicted of treason.
Treason prosecutions have essentially disappeared. Although treason was never a popular charge for federal prosecutors, treason prosecutions attended nearly every armed conflict in American history up to and including the Second World War. Sincehowever, only one person has been charged with treason against the United States.
And that single instance was relatively unusual: ina federal grand jury indicted Adam Gadahn for treason based on his participation in several al-Qaeda propaganda videos. Gadahn was not in custody at the time of his indictment, and he was later killed in a drone strike in Pakistan before he could stand trial in the United States. The traditional explanation for why treason charges have vanished is that the Supreme Court in Cramer v. United States made treason so difficult to prove that it was no longer a realistic option for federal prosecutors.
What is a pound sterling that conventional wisdom is wrong. The Court in Cramer did make treason more difficult to prove than it otherwise could have, but it did not raise the bar so high that treason charges were no longer plausible.
Againsr, the federal government pursued nearly a dozen treason prosecutions after the Conxtitutes decided Cramer how to ripen a green banana secured convictions in nearly all of those cases. As ofthere was little reason to believe that treason charges would fall into complete disuse.
A better explanation for how to paint new walls disappearance of treason prosecutions comes from another aspect of the Cramer decision. The government in Cramer argued that the Treason Clause should be interpreted leniently so that treason charges could be readily deployed during times of war.
This understanding was confirmed a few years later during the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for disclosing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.
The Rosenbergs were charged with conspiracy to trexson espionage, not treason. Bytherefore, Rosenberg and Cramer had firmly established that prosecutors could bring non-treason charges without aggainst procedural safeguards provided by the Treason Clause, even if the conduct at issue could plausibly be considered treasonous.
At the same time, Congress passed several new national security laws, including the Internal What are the main attractions in germany Act of and the Communist Control Act of As the menu of federal crimes expanded, prosecutors had unkted and less reason to resort to treason charges.
Why bother with the two-witness rule or the overt-act requirement when a variety stxtes alternative and substitute offenses exist? Because unite prosecutions have effectively disappeared, one might wonder about the continued relevance of the Treason Clause.
But the Clause tge not constitute relegated to the dustbin of history for at least two reasons. First agaist foremost, as the indictment against Adam Gadahn demonstrated, treason is not yet completely extinct. And because the Court in Cramer did not in fact make treason impossible to prove, there remains what constitutes treason against the united states possibility that treason charges could one day increase in relative frequency.
If that does happen, the Treason Clause sets forth important requirements on how such charges must be proven. Second, while the specific protections set forth in the Treason Clause may be limited to treason prosecutions, the principles underlying the Clause are not. Indeed, they should serve as important reminders about national security cases more generally. The Framers correctly believed there was a crucial distinction between traitorous actions and treasonous thought.
Departing from English common law, which at the time recognized constructive treason, the Constitution required some sort of action before a person could be convicted of treason. That line between conduct and conscience dovetails with First Amendment values, and is one that should be respected beyond the narrow confines of treason.
In addition, the Framers recognized that national security offenses are more likely to inflame public passions, and therefore deserve heightened procedural protections. This insight also extends beyond treason cases, and is one Congress, federal courts, and the treadon would do well to unired. The Treason Clause is in this sense among the stronger pieces of textual evidence that the courts were to have as much a role in evaluating the existence of certain individual threats to national security as they would in adjudicating what dogs do not molt other kind of crime.
Yet while the Treason Clause includes special rules of evidence to comstitutes guard against the danger that otherwise peaceful opponents of our government would face false accusations of supporting our enemies, neither the material support statute, nor other comparable federal offenses, contain any such safeguards.
Is it really consistent with the Treason Clause for there to be such a ready way to avoid its protections? For government to be able to whxt the same ends—prosecution for aiding the enemy—without having to encounter any of the hurdles designed to guard against the abuses of such a charge that so concerned the Framers?
Lower constltutes have for the most part been able to avoid answering the question directly by concluding that other crimes, however similar, do hte contain all of the same elements required to prove treason what constitutes treason against the united states. Unlike treason, the crime of material support, for example, carries no requirement tbe defendants have breached an allegiance owed to the United States; citizens and non-citizens alike can be charged with the offense.
At the same time, there is at least some reason to worry that material support prosecutions wat Americans and American organizations could involve forms of expressive activity—translating enemy statements into English, or producing training material on international law that an enemy organization could use to peacefully resolve disputes—that the Framers would have expected to be prosecuted, if at all, only under heightened procedural protection.
Where a prosecution amounting to a charge that an American has aided an enemy of the Constitutee States implicates such basic freedoms, the Treason Clause may provide an additional constitutional basis for arguing that the courts must take special care in protecting against prosecutorial abuse. On September 21,Revolutionary War hero Benedict Arnold turned his back on his country in a secret meeting with a top….
Treason Clause by Paul T. Crane U. Does the Treason Clause Still Matter? Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. Read the full discussion here. Matters of Debate. Podcast What is Treason? Blog Post From hero to traitor: Benedict Arnold's day of infamy On September 21,Revolutionary War hero Benedict Arnold turned his what is compensation in law on his country in a secret meeting with a top….
Sep 30, · "Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or Author: Chelsea Shannon. Jul 14, · Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution spells out what is considered treason in the United States: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
In the United States, there are both federal and state laws prohibiting treason. Constitutionally, citizens of the United States owe allegiance to at least two sovereigns. One is the United States, and the other is their state. They can therefore potentially commit treason against either, or against both.
Only one person has ever been executed for treason against the federal government: William Bruce Mumford , who was convicted of treason and hanged in for tearing down a United States flag during the American Civil War. While treason is a criminal matter under federal and state laws, it may be considered a civil matter under tribal law. Penalty: U. Any person convicted of treason against the United States will lose the right to hold public office in the United States.
The terms used in the definition derive from English legal tradition, specifically the Treason Act Levying war means the assembly of armed people to overthrow of the government or to resist its laws. Enemies are subjects of a foreign government that is in open hostility with the United States. Definition: The constitution of Alabama defines treason in similar terms to the United States Constitution. Penalty: Not less than 10 years and not more than 99 years' imprisonment eligible for parole after lesser of one-half of sentence or 15 years or life imprisonment eligible for parole after 10 years.
A treason conviction also results in loss of voting rights for life without the possibility of voting restoration. Definition: Arkansas legislation defines treason similarly to the United States Constitution, limiting it to "levying war against the state" or giving "aid and comfort" to the enemies of the state. Also similarly, conviction requires the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or confession in open court. Penalty: Death,  or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Definition: Treason against the state of California is defined similarly to the United States Constitution. The California Constitution states that "treason against the State consists only in levying war against it, adhering to its enemies, or giving them aid and comfort.
A person may not be convicted of treason except on the evidence of two witnesses to the same overt act or by confession in open court. Penalty: Death,  or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Penalty: Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Definition: The constitution of Delaware defines treason in similar terms to the United States Constitution. Penalty: Not less than 5. Penalty: Death, or by imprisonment for life or for not less than 15 years. The state constitution of Idaho specifically disallows gubernatorial respite or reprieve for a conviction for treason.
After escaping custody on charges of treason against Missouri and fleeing to Illinois, Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were charged with treason in Illinois, which at that time was a capital offense. Augustine Spencer swore out a warrant alleging that the Smith brothers had committed treason by "calling out the Legion to resist the force under the command of the Governor. Bail could not be granted for a charge of treason, so Smith was placed in jail where he was accompanied by his brother, Hyrum Smith, and other associates.
On June 27, Smith and Hyrum were killed by a mob in jail while they were awaiting trial. Ludlow, p. Penalty: Death,  or life imprisonment. In Louisiana, all life imprisonment sentences exclude the possibility of parole. Definition: The state constitution of Maine defines treason in similar terms to the United States Constitution.
Penalty: Life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after serving not less than 15 years and not more than 25 years. Penalty: Death or life imprisonment. Definition: Treason is defined in the constitution of the State of Missouri. Penalty: Not less than 10 years and not more than 30 years' imprisonment eligible for parole after serving one-half of sentence or life imprisonment eligible for parole after serving 30 years. Joseph Smith and five others were charged with treason under Missouri law in , spending over five months in prison, but escaped while awaiting trial.
Penalty: Not less than 2 years and not more than 10 years' imprisonment if imprisonment is imposed. Article I, Section 29, of the State Constitution is similar to Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, limiting the legal definition of "treason" to levying war against the State or giving "aid and comfort" to the enemies of the State.
Conviction requires two witnesses to the act itself, or a confession in open court. John Sevier , then governor of the State of Franklin and later the first governor of the State of Tennessee , was charged with treason against the State of North Carolina in October, After being transported to North Carolina, he was freed.
The charge was never brought to trial. Thomas Wilson Dorr was convicted of treason against Rhode Island in for leading a rebellion against the state government, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In January the legislature passed an act annulling the verdict of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Penalty: Death or not more than 30 years' imprisonment if committed during time of war or not more than 20 years' imprisonment if not committed during time of war.
Definition: The state constitution of South Dakota defines treason in similar terms to the United States Constitution. Tennessee has repealed its treason law. Definition: levying war or conspiring to levy war against the state, or adhering to the enemy.
Penalty: Death by electrocution. Vermont criminal law maintains the death penalty specifically for treason. No other crime is punishable by the sentence of death. The method of execution is specified as electrocution. Penalty: Not less than 20 years' imprisonment or life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after serving 15 years if imprisonment is imposed.
John Brown was charged with treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, along with conspiracy and first-degree murders after he led his raid on Harper's Ferry in In Virginia v. John Brown , he was found guilty on all three charges.
He was consequently hanged. The charges of treason against John Anthony Copeland Jr. Cooke were charged with treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia and found not guilty of treason, but were convicted of other crimes. Definition: The state constitution and statutory law of Washington define treason in similar terms to the United States Constitution, except that adhering to enemies and giving them aid are distinct forms of treason, not elements of a single form.
Penalty: Death,  life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after serving 20 years, or any term of years. Penalty: Life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after serving 10 years or not less than 3 years and not more than 10 years' imprisonment latter sentence able to be imposed at discretion of jury or court if defendant pleads guilty. Penalty: Life imprisonment with or without the possibility of parole eligible in 20 years, if sentenced to life with parole.
The U. Tribal sovereignty is a form of parallel sovereignty within the U. There is at least one case of punishment for treason under tribal law. In , the Tonawanda Band of Seneca convicted several members of treason, stripped their tribal membership, and sentenced them to permanent banishment from the Tonawanda Reservation for attempting to overthrow the traditional government.
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