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Constitution Monday: No Secret or Anonymous Treason Convictions

Note: Throughout this series, items that are hyperlinked were in the Constitution as written in 1787 but have since been amended or superseded.

Article III of the Constitution of the United States established the Judicial Branch.  Here is Article III, Section III:

Section. 3.

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.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

The Founders understood that the charge of treason could be used for political purposes, as it had been during Colonial times. So they insured that at least two people would have to testify to the exact same thing before someone could be convicted. They also knew about secret, coerced confessions, so they only allowed a public confession in open court to be used when the charge was treason.

The second paragraph ensured that only the actual traitor was punished and not his entire family. This too had been a British custom at times.

This concludes Article III. Three short sections of our Constitution for one powerful branch. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

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