Exception, Symbolism and Compromise: The Resilience of Treason as a Capital offence

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5 Scopus citations


This article explores the causes, forms and consequences of the resilience of treason as a capital offence. Though generally overlooked by the literature on the death penalty, treason has been the second most common capital offence - after murder - in states' law books in the post-WWII world and has had tangible effects on abolition trajectories. The article first traces the transformation of treason from the paradigmatic capital offence in the pre-modern era to a peripheral yet persistent component of contemporary death penalty. It then analyses and explains the dynamic of 'exempting' treason from abolition for common crimes. The third section examines situations where treason remains a capital offence on the books but is rarely used, functioning as 'symbolic law' with important consequences and spillover effects. In the conclusion, I argue that treason laws could become a central obstacle in the path to full global abolition of the death penalty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1435-1451
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Criminology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • abolition
  • death penalty
  • penal change
  • symbolic laws
  • treason

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Social Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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