What Is Treason?

Treason, betrayal of your country is a serious charge. According to US law, this is so narrowly and so rarely applied that only a few dozen people have faced charges of high treason in the entire history of our country. The constitution defines treason and states that presidents can be impeached, so in light of our president’s recent words and actions, it is worth carefully examining what constitutes treason.

Treason requires an enemy

In a dictionary sense, treason can mean any kind of betrayal, but if we are talking about the application of the law of treason, we need to refer to its specific legal definition. In the United States, treason is defined in Section 3 of Article III of the Constitution :

Treason against the United States will consist only in unleashing a war against them or in joining their Enemies, providing them with help and consolation. No person can be convicted of high treason, except on the basis of the testimony of two witnesses of the same open act or a confession in open court.

According to many legal scholars, it takes a war to have an enemy. “Technically, Russia is not an enemy because we are not at war with it, Ross Garber of Tulane Law School told Newsweek . Carlton F.W. Larson of the University of California, Davis agrees, writing about the myths of treason for the Washington Post earlier this year: “Countries we are formally in the world with, like Russia, are not enemies. (Indeed, prosecuting treason against Russia as an enemy would be tantamount to declaring war.) However, he said, al-Qaeda, ISIS and North Korea (since the Korean war never officially ended) could legally be considered our enemies.

Inciting War and Help and Comfort are also high barriers that need to be cleared. According to Larson, the definition of high treason in the Constitution should have been as narrow as possible so that charges of high treason could not be used as a political weapon. He writes: “Speaking against the government, undermining political opponents, supporting harmful policies, or even placing the interests of another nation over those of the United States are not acts of treason under the Constitution.”

But what really matters is the interpretation of the court. Other legal scholars believe there is an argument that Russia is the enemy and that Trump’s actions could be interpreted as aid. Jens David Olin of Cornell Law School told Business Insider that it can be assumed that we are already at war with Russia because of its cyberattacks on us or because we are on opposite sides of the armed conflicts in Syria. Former White House aide advisor Andrew Wright told Business Insider that the word “traitor” is “not the term I prefer to use … This is what I would like to see after additional investigations and legal findings.”

Congress decides what happens next

The punishment for treason, according to the Constitution, is passed by Congress:

Congress will have the power to declare punishment for treason, but no person who has been treason has the right to commit bloody corruption or confiscation except during the life of that person.

Under English law, the perpetrator of treason could be executed and persecuted , a status that often meant that the person was deprived of his property, civil rights and the inheritance rights of his descendants. (Interrupting inheritance is part of the “blood decomposition”.)

Americans convicted of high treason in the past have been jailed or, in some cases, executed. A person can be charged with high treason to the federal government or a specific state.

Pursuant to Section 4 of Article II of the Constitution, an adulterer may be impeached:

The President, Vice President, and all civilian officials of the United States must be removed from office following impeachment or conviction for high treason, bribery, or other serious crimes or misconduct.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors cover many issues, so the president can be impeached for anything that is not high treason.

Impeachment requires indictment in the House of Representatives. If the majority of the House of Representatives votes to impeach, the Senate will hold a trial presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have appeared in court on impeachment charges, but neither have been convicted.


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