Treason is the only crime defined in the Constitution -- here's why

Columbia Law School’s Richard Briffault explains why treason is the only crime defined in the US Constitution.

Following is a transcript of the video:

The Constitution specifically defines what treason is which is making war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to our enemies, and it actually has a procedural element that treason has to be proven by the statements of two witnesses to an overt act or a confession.

And so, it is interesting, the Constitution gives that much detail to treason.

It is an unusual provision of the Constitution that it defines specific crime. Normally, in this area, the Constitution either gives power, say to Congress to pass laws, including to define crimes, or deny certain powers to Congress or to the president or the judiciary.

This kind of very specific element of a kind of a criminal code is quite unusual.

I think it’s because treason is a unique crime. It is the crime that is most a crime against the state, and I think there may have been some concern that in English history, and a lot of the Constitution was written against the background of English history, treason may have been abused as a way of getting at the King’s enemies, and so I think the special requirements of proof, and the specific definition of treason about giving – about making war against the country, giving aid and comfort to the enemy, I think was a way of narrowing the definition of what treason is.

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