Does Julian Assange face the death penalty in the United States (if Britain extradites him there for his alleged crimes of publishing confidential documents on WikiLeaks)? The Ecuadorians have ejected him from their London embassy but only after guarantees from UK authorities that he wouldn’t be extradited to somewhere he could face “torture or the death penalty”. If he did face the death penalty in the US, Britain’s Extradition Act 2003 Section 94 would protect him from extradition.
The US does retain the death penalty specifically for treason, but it seems pretty certain that a treason prosecution, demanded by many in America, is not on the cards.
It is worth looking at the history of US treason law to see why. It started, of course, in England. The original Statute of Treasons of 1351 codified what was generally accepted as the common law definition of high treason:
“If a man compasses [plots] or imagines [proposes] the death of our lord the king, of our lady his consort [the king’s wife] or of their eldest son and heir; or if a man violates [has sex with, whether consensual or not] the king’s consort, the king’s eldest daughter being as yet unmarried or the consort of the king’s eldest son and heir; or if a man makes war against our said lord the king in the kingdom or is an adherent of enemies to our lord the king in the kingdom…”
Any of that constituted treason plus counterfeiting the “great seal” (impressed in wax on documents to indicate they had the monarch’s authority) and coinage or killing the “chancellor, treasurer or justices”.