The crime of “treason” essentially means to betray your country, but it's much more complex than that, as there are numerous closely related legal definitions, activities, and federal offenses.
Let's start with the description of treason in Article 3, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, which says, “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.”
Next, let's look at the definition of treason under 18 U.S.C. 2381, which says, “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 elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or imprisoned and fined, and incapable of holding office under the United States.”
Prosecutors do not commonly use the federal statute on treason. Still, the lesser included related crimes are more common, such as sedition and subversive activities, which can ruin someone's reputation and career, along with potential time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Treason and related offenses are a serious matter. To have the best chance of a favorable outcome, you will need an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. Let's review these federal laws in more detail below.
What Must Be Proven for a Treason Conviction?
While allegations of treason are not uncommon in a hotly debated political climate, 18 U.S. Code 2381 treason charges are rare, but related statutes are a different story, as discussed below.
While treason and sedition are similar crimes, they are defined under different federal statutes. Specific elements of the crime must be proven to be convicted. Thus, challenging these elements to create reasonable doubt is a common defense strategy.
As noted, the generally accepted definition of treason is the betrayal of one's country. To be convicted, prosecutors must prove that the defendant committed one of the two acts and did so with the "specific intent to betray" the United States. Under federal law, you can only be convicted of treason by the following:
- the testimony of two witnesses describing the same act, or
- by the defendant's confession.
The first section of the crime, described as “levying war against the United States,” is straightforward. This means to take up arms to overthrow the government or prevent it from carrying out lawful functions.
The other section, “adhering to the enemies of the United States,” requires further explanation. This includes providing financial support or sensitive information to a country at war with the United States.
Thus, to be convicted of treason, you must have committed at least one of these acts with a specific intent to betray the country, meaning you must have had the intent to assist the enemy.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Other federal crimes are similar to treason but with different elements of the crime and an extra level of intent. The United States Congress has passed several related laws with more specific definitions than treason.
18 U.S. Code Chapter 115 – Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities has several federal statutes related to 18 U.S.C. 2381 treason, including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 2382 Misprision of Treason imposes penalties for anyone who has knowledge of the commission of treason and not disclosing it as soon as they know it has occurred.
- 18 U.S.C. 2383 Rebellion or Insurrection is defined as two or more people inciting, assisting, engaging in rebellion against the United States government, or giving comfort or aid.
- 18 U.S.C. 2384 Seditious Conspiracy is defined as two or more people conspiring to overthrow, put down, or destroy the United States government by force or prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law. It also includes seizing, taking, or possessing any property of the U.S. government, such as in the case of the 2021 riot on the Capitol Building.
- 18 U.S.C. 2385 Advocating Overthrow of Government makes it a federal crime to advocate, abet, advise, or teach the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing the United States government by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer. It also includes publishing or circulating printed material advocating the government overthrow.
- 18 U.S.C 2386 Registration of Certain Organizations gives the Attorney General the authority to monitor any organization or political activity which has the purpose or aim to control by force or overthrow the government of the United States or a political subdivision.
- 18 U.S.C. 2387 Activities Affecting Armed Forces make it a crime to interfere with, impair, or influence the loyalty, morale, or discipline of the United States military. It also includes advising, urging, or attempting to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, or distributing materials encouraging disloyalty among military members.
- 18 U.S.C 2388 Activities Affecting Armed Forces During War makes it a crime when the U.S. is at war to willfully make or convey false reports or statements with intent to interfere with the operation of the military or naval forces of the United States. or promote the success of its enemies; or attempts to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty.
- 18 U.S.C. 2389 Recruiting for Service against the United States makes it a crime to recruit soldiers or sailors to engage in armed hostility against the U.S. government or to open a recruiting station for the enlistment of soldiers to serve in armed hostility against the country.
- 18 U.S.C. 2390 Enlistment to serve against the United States makes it a crime for someone to enlist or is engaged in any place within U.S. jurisdiction to serve in armed hostility.
- 18 U.S.C. 792 – 798 Espionage is defined as when someone obtains, delivers, or transmits national defense information to someone not authorized to receive it or to retain the same documents intending to deliver them to an unauthorized person.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 2381?
Suppose you are convicted of the federal crime of treason. In that case, you are facing harsh legal consequences. In fact, it's one of the few federal crimes that capital punishment is a sentencing option. The minimum penalty for treason is five years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a fine of up to $10,000;
What Are the Defenses for Treason?
Suppose you are accused of violating 18 U.S.C. 2381 or a related offense. In that case, you will need to retain a federal criminal defense lawyer to have the best chance of a favorable outcome.
The crime of treason is a serious allegation, and you will need legal representation that knows how to effectively protect your legal rights and freedom.
Perhaps we challenge the legality of the search after examining the case details. Perhaps there are legal issues with the execution of a search warrant, and evidence was unlawfully seized.
Perhaps the evidence was discovered and seized outside the guidelines of the warrant, such as not matching the listed description. Your defense lawyer must know the federal search and seizure warrants laws.
Further, just because a federal law enforcement agency obtained a search warrant from a judge does not always mean it was valid. Perhaps there was a lack of probable cause.
You can contact us for a free case evaluation by phone or via the contact form. We serve clients throughout the United States on federal criminal matters. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.