How Do Prosecutors Charge Treason?

What is Treason?

To define treason, we must ask, where is treason defined in the constitution? The United States constitution defines this crime as a citizen betraying the government by levying war on it or aiding and comforting the enemy. The penalties range from five years in prison and a $10,000 fine to the death penalty.

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Types of Treason

To levy war, you must use force to prevent a particular law from being enforced. Prosecutors will define large gatherings of people as “force.”

Providing aid or comfort to the enemy is only charged during wartime. Prosecutors will investigate if the defendant was helping the enemy take down the United States in any way. An example is somebody attempting to provide the enemy with financial support during wartime.

State vs. Federal Treason

Treason can happen at the state or federal level. Each state has its laws for this crime. Although prosecutors charge this crime federally, prosecutors must determine whether the defendant aimed their actions at the state or government.

To be charged on the state level, prosecutors will look for actions that prove a person levied war against the people within that state or provided aid to that state’s enemies. Federal treason includes actions aimed at the federal government.

Overt Acts

Prosecutors can’t charge somebody for this crime unless the defendant confesses or two witnesses attest to the same overt act. The constitution states this because of this crime’s seriousness and that a group of people usually commits it.

An overt act shows the actor intends to commit treason. Online posts meant to gather support for their treasonous cause are an example prosecutors could use. Each witness can have different overt acts.

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Common Misconceptions

There are many crimes that prosecutors end up charging the defendant with because they’re easier to prove. These crimes are similar to treason but aren’t the same.

Sedition is where somebody from any country plans to overthrow the United States government. Prosecutors may use this law if the defendant isn’t an American citizen.

Espionage is similar to treason in that it involves aiding another country. Espionage includes giving classified information to a foreign nation regardless of its alliance with the United States. Prosecutors can only charge the defendant with treason if they aid an enemy.

Conspiracy to levy war doesn’t involve the action of levying war. For prosecutors to prove treason, there must be an action.


Prosecutors use these definitions to accurately charge the defendant. By following the correct legal codes, determining the type of crime, and identifying who it was aimed at, the prosecutors figure out whether a crime is treasonous or not.