Understanding the Federal Crime of Treason


The Federal Crime of Treason has dire consequences for those convicted. To improve your chance of a favorable outcome, hire a lawyer. Call Scrofano Law PC.

The Federal Crime of Treason: What It Is and What You Can Be Charged With

Treason is a serious federal crime that carries severe consequences. It is defined as betraying one’s country or government and is considered one of the most serious offenses a person can commit. 

In this article, we will understand what constitutes treason, how a person can be charged with it, and the potential penalties that come with a conviction. 

We’ll also explore some real-world examples of treason to see how it has been prosecuted in the past. Whether you are a concerned citizen or a professional in the legal field, this article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of this complex and critical subject.


What Is Treason?

The definition of the federal crime of treason can be found in 18 U.S. Code § 2381. It has been used to impose criminal consequences for activities affecting the armed forces since before World War II.

A person is said to have committed an act of treason when a person owing allegiance to the United States commits an overt act against the US government. These acts include levying war and providing aid or comfort to an enemy of the US.

It is punishable by death or imprisonment and fines of not less than $10,000. Anyone guilty of treason is also barred from holding any office under the US.

What Are the Three Acts of Treason?

The federal crime of treason is one of the few federal crimes written into the US Constitution and has only been used a handful of times in US history. The three acts of treason, as defined by the US Constitution, are:

1. Levying War Against the United States

It means actively taking up arms against the US government or military to overthrow it.

2. Adhering to the Enemies of the United States

It means joining a country or organization at war with the United States.

3. Giving Aid and Comfort to the Enemies of the United States

It means providing financial, logistical, or other forms of support to a country or organization at war with the United States.

Is Treason a Federal Crime?

Treason committed against the United States is a federal crime, meaning it is prosecuted by the federal government and not by individual states. This is because treason against the United States is considered a betrayal of the entire country, not just one state.

A person can be charged with treason if they actively and knowingly take actions detrimental to the United States or its government.

It should also be noted that most states also have laws concerning treason. These laws, however, deal with instances where treason is committed against a particular state and not the entire United States.

Treason Law in the US

Treason prosecutions have been rare throughout US history. However, related crimes such as seditious conspiracy, which is punishable under the Federal Conspiracy Statute, and misprision of treason, which involves failing to report knowledge of treason to the proper authorities, are both punishable under federal law. 

People convicted of treason in the United States may suffer death or life imprisonment, while those convicted of related crimes under the Federal Conspiracy Statute may face lesser criminal penalties.


Who Can Prosecute Treason?

The Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutes federal crimes, including treason. The Attorney General heads the DOJ. They are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. 

Within the DOJ, the Criminal Division is responsible for overseeing the prosecution of federal crimes, including treason. The Criminal Division has several sections, including the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES), which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases involving the authorized disclosure of classified information, espionage, and other related offenses, including treason.

How Is Treason Punished?

The punishment for treason is defined in the U.S. Code and is subject to change. Treason is a serious federal crime, and its consequences can be severe, resulting in imprisonment for not less than five years and even death. A fine of not less than $10,000 is also levied in case of conviction.

The punishment depends on the case’s circumstances and the judge’s discretion.


Treason Charges

Throughout history, a relatively small number of people have been charged with treason in the United States. Some notable examples of treason cases include:


Aaron Burr

He was charged with treason in 1807 for his role in an alleged plot to create an independent nation in the western United States. He was acquitted of the charges in 1807.

Benedict Arnold

He was a General in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was charged with treason in 1780 for his role in a plot to surrender the fort at West Point to the British. Arnold was never tried for treason, as he fled to British-controlled territory before being apprehended.

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

They were charged with treason in 1951 for their role in passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union. They were convicted, sentenced to death, and executed in 1953.

Adam Gadahn

He was charged with treason in 2006 for his role in producing and disseminating Al-Qaeda propaganda videos. He was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2015.

What Legal Defenses Can Be Used in a Treason Case?

In defending against a treason charge, an attorney might argue that their client didn’t commit the “same overt act” twice, a requirement under the United States Constitution for conviction. Alternatively, they may challenge the prosecution’s interpretation of “activities affecting armed forces,” or assert that the client was merely exercising free speech rights. This could involve disputing any alleged “advocating overthrow” of the government as defined by the charge or questioning the validity of evidence found in “written or printed matter.” However, successfully employing these defenses requires comprehensive knowledge of Constitutional law and expert legal representation.

Contact a Federal Criminal Lawyer for Help

If you or a loved one is charged with treason or any federal fraud charges, taking immediate action is vital to protect your rights. A federal criminal conviction can have serious and long-lasting consequences, including lengthy prison sentences, substantial fines, and a criminal record.

That’s why it’s crucial to contact an experienced federal criminal attorney as soon as possible. A qualified federal criminal lawyer can guide you through the complex legal process, protect your rights, and work towards achieving a favorable outcome in your case.

The attorneys at Scrofano Law have the knowledge, experience, and skill to represent you in any federal criminal case. We’ll build a comprehensive defense based on understanding your rights and the criminal justice system.

Contact us by filling out our easy online form to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our attorneys today!


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