University of Pittsburgh Law Review
capital punishment, treason clause, executions, death penalty, cruel and unusual
This article focuses on two words: executing traitors. We have a good idea of what the first word means, even if we repress the sordid details of the actual dying. Treason, however, is a word notable both for its ambiguity and for the powerful emotions it evokes, emotions found in such equally potent words as betrayal, war and defeat. As will be seen, by limiting the crime to two types of actions and by requiring unique procedural protections, the drafters of the Constitution balanced the country's need for protection from treason against their fear that a future administration might instigate improper prosecutions. The primary goal of this article is to demonstrate why the Constitution should be interpreted to require an additional protection: prohibition of the use of capital punishment in treason cases unless the government can also prove aggravated murder.
James G. Wilson, Chaining The Leviathan: The Unconstitutionality of Executing Those Convicted of Treason, 45 University of Pittsburgh Law Review 99 (1983)