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Offenses against the State

Herbert L. Packer
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 339, Crime and the American Penal System (Jan., 1962), pp. 77-89
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1034320
Page Count: 13
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Offenses against the State
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Abstract

Offenses against the state fall into two categories: conduct inimical to the very existence of government, and offenses which affect the orderly and just administration of public business. Treason, which shades into sedition or advocacy of overthrow, and espionage are examples of the former. Although the United States Constitution was designed to limit the definition of treason to exclude "constructive treason" as used in England, sedition laws giving similar effect have been passed in times of crisis. First Amendment problems have made prosecutions for subversive activities of livelier interest in constitutional than in criminal law. Examples of offenses which obstruct governmental operations include perjury, bribery and corruption, and criminal libel and contempt by publication. Convictions for actions to obstruct are generally difficult to obtain. Prosecution for perjury, however, has been undertaken in a number of cases in which the statute of limitations proscribed prosecution for espionage or a more serious charge or where a conviction on another charge could not be obtained. It has always been difficult to delineate satisfactorily free political activity and extralegal conspiracy contemplating force and arms rather than persuasion and the ballot. To the credit of American political institutions, patriotic excesses, popular, legislative, or administrative, have generally been checked by an independent bar and an independent judiciary, and criticism of governmental action which jeopardizes political liberty is freely voiced in Congress, the courts, and the press.

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