The Haupt Case.

The Supreme Court sustained a conviction of treason, for the first time in its history, in 1947 in Haupt v. United States.1488 Here it was held that although the overt acts relied upon to support the charge of treason—defendant’s harboring and sheltering in his home his son who was an enemy spy and saboteur, assisting him in purchasing an automobile, and in obtaining employment in a defense plant—were all acts which a father would naturally perform for a son, this fact did not necessarily relieve them of the treasonable purpose of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Speaking for the Court, Justice Jackson said: “No matter whether young Haupt’s mission was benign or traitorous, known or unknown to the defendant, these acts were aid and comfort to him. In the light of this mission and his instructions, they were more than casually useful; they were aids in steps essential to his design for treason. If proof be added that the defendant knew of his son’s instruction, preparation and plans, the purpose to aid and comfort the enemy becomes clear.”1489

The Court held that conversation and occurrences long prior to the indictment were admissible evidence on the question of defendant’s intent. And more important, it held that the constitutional requirement of two witnesses to the same overt act or confession in open court does not operate to exclude confessions or admissions made out of court, where a legal basis for the conviction has been laid by the testimony of two witnesses of which such confessions or admissions are merely corroborative. This relaxation of restrictions surrounding the definition of treason evoked obvious satisfaction from Justice Douglas, who saw in Haupt a vindication of his position in Cramer. His concurring opinion contains what may be called a restatement of the law of treason and merits quotation at length:

“As the Cramer case makes plain, the overt act and the intent with which it is done are separate and distinct elements of the crime. Intent need not be proved by two witnesses but may be inferred from all the circumstances surrounding the overt act. But if two witnesses are not required to prove treasonable intent, two witnesses need not be required to show the treasonable character of the overt act. For proof of treasonable intent in the doing of the overt act necessarily involves proof that the accused committed the overt act with the knowledge or understanding of its treasonable character.”

“The requirement of an overt act is to make certain a treasonable project has moved from the realm of thought into the realm of action. That requirement is undeniably met in the present case, as it was in the case of Cramer.”

“The Cramer case departed from those rules when it held that ‘The two-witness principle is to interdict imputation of incriminating acts to the accused by circumstantial evidence or by the testimony of a single witness.’ 325 U.S. p. 35. The present decision is truer to the constitutional definition of treason when it forsakes that test and holds that an act, quite innocent on its face, does not need two witnesses to be transformed into a incriminating one.”1490

Footnotes

1488
330 U.S. 631 (1947). [Back to text]
1489
330 U.S. at 635–36. [Back to text]
1490
330 U.S. at 645–46. Justice Douglas cites no cases for these propositions. Justice Murphy in a solitary dissent stated: “But the act of providing shelter was of the type that might naturally arise out of petitioner’s relationship to his son, as the Court recognizes. By its very nature, therefore, it is a non-treasonous act. That is true even when the act is viewed in light of all the surrounding circumstances. All that can be said is that the problem of whether it was motivated by treasonous or non-treasonous factors is left in doubt. It is therefore not an overt act of treason, regardless of how unlawful it might otherwise be.” Id. at 649. [Back to text]