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Treason Laws, Charges & Punishment + Statute of Limitations

June 25, 2020 Federal Criminal Attorneys

Of all the types of crimes that someone might commit, there’s only one that literally written in the very fabric of the Constitution. That crime is treason. Treason has a highly specific meaning. This crime is defined as someone who intentionally betrays the allegiance owed the United States by engaging in acts of war against the country. A person may also be accused of treason if they choose to assist those defined as the country’s enemies. The victim of the crime is the United States government. This is the single most serious federal crime. A person who is convicted of treason can expect either a lengthy prison sentence or even the death penalty. A person can be charged with federal treason. States also have constitutions. In very rare cases, someone may be charged with violating state treason laws. Most people who are charged with treason are charged with federal treason as the crime is considered one that threatens the entire country.

Two Ways

In general, there are two ways that someone might commit treason. The first is levying war. It’s not enough to state that the person has the intention of committing war against the United States. They need to have what is known as forcible opposition. That term indicates the person worked with others with the overall goal of preventing specific laws from being carried out. A group of people are considered to have deliberately acted against the government.

The second way that someone might be charged with treason is by what is known as providing both aid and comfort to an enemy of the country. For example, if another person is planning to carry out acts against the government, another person can be charged with treason if they help them fiscally or otherwise. Government officials take the view that acting to weaken the country’s defenses such as harboring a soldier who intends to harm American government officials is a form of treason.

Proving Treason

In order to make a charge of treason stick, the prosecution has certain requirements. There must be a confession by the accused or have two witnesses who can attest to the actions of the defendant. The defendant’s actions must be what are known as overt actions. An overt action has a specific meaning. It is defined in two parts. In the first place, the defendant must have criminal intent when they committed that act. In the second, the defendant must have the ability to commit a crime. All defendants should be aware that the action in question need not be a crime in itself. For example, it is not illegal to make posts or to buy guns and ammunition. It is, however, illegal, to do these things with the overall intention of committing treason against the government of the United States.

The government must also show where they took place. People can commit treason independently by doing different actions in different places. If multiple acts of treason have been committed, government officials need only prove one of them took place. The government needs two witnesses to specifically testify as to the desire to commit treason. The two are needed to prove there was an overt act. However, the part of the law that deals with intent to commit treason can be shown just like any other crime. Even if treason is not proven, the government can use these examples to prosecute someone for other types of crimes such as espionage, conspiracy to levy war, seditious conspiracy, and terrorism. All of these types of crimes are considered very serious offenses that can lead to extremely severe penalties such as fines and prison time.

Punishment for treason can range from five years in prison to imprisonment for life or even, very rarely, the possible death penalty during the sentencing phase. Treason is a relatively rare charge but it is still used by government officials on occasion. Some crimes have what is known as a statue of limitations. This means someone can no longer be prosecuted for certain crimes after a certain period of time. This is not true of treason. A person can be charged with treason at any point in time.

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