The Cramer Case.

Since Bollman, the few treason cases that have reached the Supreme Court were outgrowths of World War II and have charged adherence to enemies of the United States and the giving of aid and comfort. In the first of these, Cramer v. United States,1484 the issue was whether the “overt act” had to be “openly manifest treason” or if it was enough if, when supported by the proper evidence, it showed the required treasonable intention.1485 The Court, in a five-to-four opinion by Justice Jackson, in effect took the former view holding that “the two-witness principle” interdicted “imputation of incriminating acts to the accused by circumstantial evidence or by the testimony of a single witness,”1486 even though the single witness in question was the accused himself. “Every act, movement, deed, and word of the defendant charged to constitute treason must be supported by the testimony of two witnesses,”1487 Justice Jackson asserted. Justice Douglas in a dissent, in which Chief Justice Stone and Justices Black and Reed concurred, contended that Cramer’s treasonable intention was sufficiently shown by overt acts as attested to by two witnesses each, plus statements made by Cramer on the witness stand.

Footnotes

1484
325 U.S. 1 (1945). [Back to text]
1485
89 Law. Ed. 1443–1444 (Argument of Counsel). [Back to text]
1486
325 U.S. at 35. [Back to text]
1487
325 U.S. at 34–35. Earlier, Justice Jackson had declared that this phase of treason consists of two elements: “adherence to the enemy; and rendering him aid and comfort.” A citizen, it was said, may take actions “which do aid and comfort the enemy . . . but if there is no adherence to the enemy in this, if there is no intent to betray, there is no treason.” Id. at 29. Justice Jackson states erroneously that the requirement of two witnesses to the same overt act was an original invention of the Convention of 1787. Actually it comes from the British Treason Trials Act of 1695. 7 Wm. III, c.3. [Back to text]